A Son's View Of Robert Kennedy

On June 6, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy won the California presidential primary, defeating Democratic Sen. Eugene McCarthy. That night, Kennedy thanked a crowd of supporters at the ballroom of his headquarters hotel, the Ambassador.

After finishing his speech to the cheers of his audience, he stepped down from the podium, not knowing that an assassin awaited him. At 12:15 AM, Jordanian student Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert Kennedy in the head. He died the next day.

America was stunned by the tragedy, many mourning a leader they had hoped would have gone on to the White House to carry on the tradition of another slain Kennedy - his brother, John.

Thirty years later, Congressman Joe Kennedy, remembers a father and the politician the rest of America knew. Robert F. Kennedy dreamed of things that never were, and asked: Why not?

CBS News Anchor Paula Zahn spoke with Congressman Kennedy about his father. The following is a transcript of their conversation.


CBS News Anchor Paula Zahn: You have a better understanding today why after all that passage of time, the ideals held so dear and close to him are still so celebrated by so many Americans?

Joseph Kennedy: So many issues and the concerns that he was a voice for have not really been solved by our country, so there's almost because of that lack of closure on so many issues that he was involved in, that his voice is still is a clarion call and therefore has continued to be missed.

Zahn: Can you explain today how he inspired so many people into action when in fact his service in public office was not all that long a period of time?

Kennedy: I think that people felt that Robert Kennedy was someone whoÂ…meant what he said, that he was going to get it done. He was not just mouthing words or taking polls but he was someone who, if he gave his word on trying to solve an issue pertaining to race or getting this country out of Vietnam, it was going to happen.

Zahn: Given this climate in Washington today of instant poll-taking, is it possible to be courageous as your father was in taking unpopular stands?

Kennedy: I think that the whole era of politics today has changed so dramatically from people just trying to tell the am public what they want to hear and thinking that's going to get them automatically elected instead of challenging the American people to do and become better than they are and better than we are - which in some ways is what the American people want - and that's what I think that Robert Kennedy understood.

Zahn: What are your most vivid memories you have of your father?

Kennedy: He was a wonderful father who created great excitement.

Zahn: What are some of the guiding principles he shared with you that still give you direction today?

Kennedy: Certainly the whole notion of loving your country and trying to be a good father to my own children. Trying to stand up for set of principles that you believe in regardless of what price you end up paying, and despite all the failings that take place - which are substantial. And I don't mean to suggest that there haven't been, but nevertheless his gift to us was a tough moral character that he really held very deeply in his conscience and made certain that all his children felt as well.

Zahn: When your uncle, Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy, eulogized your father some thirty years ago, he said, 'My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life.' Are those words still true for you?

Kennedy: Very much so. So many people know Robert Kennedy as a political figure. To my brothers and sisters and myself, he was a father. To my mother, he was a husband. He lived life to the fullest and brought joy to our lives. Above all he was human and that was very much the part of him that we not only remember, but love.

Zahn: What impact do you think the most recent controversies surrounding your family had had on your family's legacy?

Kennedy: When there are problems, they get a lot of attention. And that's going to be a part of a family's history. I don't know what the ultimate sort of judgement of history will be, but I think that there will be more on the real work of John and Robert Kennedy and probably Sen. Ted Kennedy a well.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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