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1967_08_26--028_SP At Home with Heir Apparent

Kerry, holding her dog, snuggles up beside the often-absent senator during a rare moment of peace and relaxation. In a very short time the senator came running down the stairs, a dramatically transformed man. He wore a conservatively elegant businessman's suit, and his hair was carefully combed. He was alert and bright-eyed as we walked out the front door. Christopher and Matthew Maxwell Taylor Kennedy followed us, with their mother in hot pursuit. A member of Kennedy's staff was waiting to drive him to the office. The senator got into the front seat of the car, always his preferred position. The children were hurrying over. "Are you coming?" Kennedy called to them. "Yes," they shouted back. "Do they want to come?" the senator called to Mrs. Kennedy. She walked briskly over toward the car. "I didn't know that you'd take them," she said. Christopher announced that he definitely did want to go to his father's office. Mrs. Kennedy and the children were nearing the waiting car, and Bobby said, "Ethel, Mr. Bird wants to know what are the differences between the Kennedy brothers?" The senator was grinning, and Mrs. Kennedy laughed. "Oh, I'd say that Bobby is much jollier, more outgoing " Senator Kennedy broke in, "She's joking, aren't you, Ethel?" and she nodded. "It's awfully hard to compare," she said. 34 estrangement and alienation between two of our strongest, brightest and most articulate groups— the young ones who were in the Peace Corps, or were Rhodes scholars, or were editors of college magazines, and so on. Some of them represent, I think, a minority who are opposed to the war in Vietnam. And then on the other side are those who are making the sacrifice—going over there to Vietnam to tight, and some to die. These again are the best of our young people, who feel strongly about the efforts we are making to win the war. Now these two groups are becoming more and more alienated from each other, and I think that this is most unfortunate." Did he think that the universities have anything constructive to say about this? "No," Kennedy said emphatically. "They have become such machines. But we are trying to do something in New York through the Democratic Party—a community action program. You know, I think the political parties can do something more than just try to get people elected. We are trying to get some effectiveness by building an organization that will go in and help the mentally ill, the retarded, and give tutoring that will bring together the college students." I asked him how he thought the country as a whole might be unified in purpose. "I don't think there will be any magic formula or any one program," he answered. "I think it will begin when the people of this country get a feeling of what the country and society stand for. We'll still have problems, but that feeling is lacking at the moment. It is replaced by this internal strife over what we are doing, right or wrong, in Southeast Asia." The morning was wearing on. From an earlier visit to Suite No. 3327 in the new Senate Office Building, I knew that Robert Kennedy's staff would already be at work dealing with the first of the 1,000 letters which he receives on an average day, and of the 200 telephone calls that would be coming in, many from distant parts of the globe. Because his seniority in the Senate is low, Kennedy's office is a small one. And because he has one of the largest personal staffs, A is unbelievably crowded, with file cabinets, desks jammed together, potted azaleas and geraniums— and people. Abstracted young men and svelte, cool, mini-skirted girls, some of them speaking alternately in two languages, are constantly passing in and out, and calling across the room to one another. "How's your project going, Janice?"... "Teeny, pick up on four." The air fairly vibrates with a feeling of people and ideas in motion. Without exception, these young men and women feel that Robert Kennedy is interested in more questions of national and international concern than other senators—and he all but overwhelms them with a constant flood of queries and memoranda. "When most people get to the Senate," one staff member explains, "they stop learning and instead begin applying what they have already learned." The clear implication is that this is not true of Sen. Robert Kennedy. I disliked prolonging the interview further, but I wanted the senator's views on the reason for his appeal to the younger generation. "They think you understand them," I said, "that you are on their side. You must have a sense that they are with you because you have seen them turn out for you by the millions." He was nodding as I said this. "Why do you think these young people all over the country follow you like a pied piper?" "I don't know that," he said, his voice utterly flat. I mentioned the New Left and he jumped at that. "Well, of course," he said, "those who are completely on the New Left want to destroy our basic institutions because they think they are corrupt, and they share with the extreme right a hostility toward those in the middle who want to preserve and reform those institutions." He hesitated a moment and then went on, "I don't mind their criticism of the establishment or whatever it might be. I think that's all worthwhile, but I just don't happen to agree with it." Then, without a pause, he added in a fast, hard-to-catch monotone, spoken as if it were a part of the same sentence: "I have to go upstairs to get dressed, would you mind waiting a few minutes in the library and ride to my office with me?" "Uncle Ted" interrupts buffet lunch on brother's lawn to pick up Bobby and Ethel Kennedy for a sailboat race.


1967_08_26--028_SP At Home with Heir Apparent
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