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Review of Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Lion

Via APPaul did it spiritually, Jared from Subway did it physically, and Bobby Kennedy did it politically. In Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Lion, Larry Tye chronicles the complex liberal hero who traversed the ideological spectrum throughout his all-too-short life. He did more than flip-flop; he sandaled.

Born to an infamous and influential right-wing father, Bobby jaggedly maneuvered to the left throughout his life. The ideologue who worked with Joseph McCarthy somehow turned into the idealist that reminded people of the ripples of hope that can cause waves of change.

Known as the “runt of the litter,” Bobby was smaller than his brothers growing up. He didn’t stand out, which is not that surprising when you grow up as the little brother of a future president and another who would be known as the Liberal Lion of the Senate. His mother worried that he would grow up to be a “sissy.” But this runt sissy spent much of his childhood, according to Tye, trying harder than any of his brothers to get noticed or receive acclaim.

Upon the urging from the powerful patriarch Joe Sr., John Kennedy allowed Bobby to help on the 1946 campaign for Congress. As Tye notes, it would be the campaign environment where the runt would earn his stripes and prove his worth. “Bobby’s as hard as nails,” Joe Sr. boasted to those within earshot. Eventually, Joe. Sr. considered the potential sissy to be indispensable to JFK’s march to the White House.

Just as his father got him his first jobs outside and inside the campaign, Joe. Sr. insisted on JFK appointing Bobby to Attorney General when the older Kennedy won the presidency. But before serving for four years as the Attorney General and over three years as a senator from the state of New York, Bobby worked with Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Joe Sr. believed that Bobby needed to be exposed to the “communists in the government.” So, early in the 1950s, Bobby started working with family friend Senator Joseph McCarthy. The senator bore striking character resemblance to Joe Sr., as both were driven Irishmen with a “disdain for left-wingers.”

And Bobby was delighted to work with and learn from McCarthy. Such was evident as he emulated many of the relentless tactics that McCarthy demonstrated when Kennedy went after Jimmy Hoffa during his time as Attorney General. Tye records that such tactics were “the most unrelenting congressional assault ever” directed at the Teamsters boss.

Even after McCarthy’s congressional censures, Bobby would note: “Joe McCarthy seemed to be the only one doing anything” about the internal security threats to the United States. Though he left the committee as the end drew near, Tye records that “McCarthy reserved a place for Bobby at his wedding, his dinner table, and his death bed.”

But it would be at his brother’s deathbed where the ruthless and diligent ideologue would undergo a soul-searching endeavor that would change his life. After the assassination of his brother, Tye notes that a good Bobby emerged that was committed to social justice, helping the poor, working to end racism, and seeking to make peace.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once noted: “I hope you live a life that you are proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” Bobby Kennedy experienced a drastic life course correction. He went from being the one who asked for the findings from Hoover’s wiretapping of Martin Luther King’s phone to being the one to defy police advice and speak poignantly to a grieving crowd about the death of King. He went from experiencing the pangs of murder to sympathizing with those who just found out that someone near and dear had been murdered.

Changed people change people. Bobby Kennedy changed. And because of his change, he likewise changed a part of the world.

In the Scriptures, we read of how Jesus changes people’s situations and circumstances. He restores sight to the blind, feeds the hungry, restores dignity to the shamed, and causes the lame to jump for joy. These changed people then changed their worlds. And little did they know how big a role they would play in so many lives today.

Bobby Kennedy lived under big shadows. Though his father’s wealth and his brother’s presidency helped him tremendously, they also kept him from receiving all the attention he so desired as a little “runt.” He did not accomplish as much as his brother, but he embodied the change we all hope to see reflected in the world. Changed people change the world. Bobby demonstrated it, the Bible affirms it.

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