Assessing California; Grimm's Return; Defusing Gaza; Mourning in America

Good morning. It’s Friday, June 8, 2018. Fifty years ago today, the body of Robert Francis Kennedy was borne by train from New York, following his funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, to its final resting place on a gentle green hill in Arlington National Cemetery.

At the mass inside St. Patrick’s, Edward M. Kennedy, the last survivor of four brothers, gave his famous and heart-wrenching eulogy to RFK. Leonard Bernstein led the New York Philharmonic in the Adagietto from Mahler‘s Symphony No. 5 and Andy Williams the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Strong men and women wept.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans lined the tracks along the train route. Mike Barnicle, a journalist now but a young Kennedy campaign volunteer then, recalled this week what he saw as he looked out the train window at the grief-stricken Americans who formed that 225-mile gauntlet.

“They were white and black and brown,” . “They saluted, prayed, stood still and silent, wept, saluted, held a hand over their heart or just followed the slowly moving cars of the train with eyes that seemed just a bit apprehensive or even a bit frightened by what had happened and what might be happening to the land around them.”

In a moment, I’ll relate my own recollection of those unhappy events in June 1968. First, I’d first point you to RealClearPolitics’ , which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

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What to Make of the California Primary Results. Sean Trende has this of the congressional race outcomes, which could reflect Democrats’ chances of winning the House in November.

Primary in Staten Island — Trump Country — Worries GOP. Adele Malpass on party concerns as polls show convicted felon Michael Grimm leading Rep. Dan Donovan ahead of the June 26 New York primary.

Israel Can Ease Gaza Tensions, But So Must the U.N. Peter Berkowitz the dynamics of the conflict and what the international community can do to stop fueling the flames.

Don’t Buy the Pentagon’s Statements on Afghanistan. In RealClearDefense, Jerrod A. Labor that an inspector general report released last week paints a far less rosy picture than that proffered by the Defense Department.

Congress Is Broken, But Don‘t Blame Polarization. In RealClearPolicy, Philip A. Wallach & James Wallner an alternative explanation for congressional dysfunction.

Change House Rules to Fix Our Broken Congress. Also in RCPolicy, the bipartisan group No Labels a plan to address dysfunction on Capitol Hill.

Masterpiece Cakeshop: A Precursor of Battles to Come. In RealClearReligion, Zachary T. Reynolds that the Supreme Court passed on the chance to provide broad and enduring protection for religious freedom.

Philanthropy Against Democracy. In RealClearBooks, Michael E. Hartmann a new biography of social scientist Hans Speier.

Sea Piracy Is on the Decline, But Far From Dead. In RealClearLife, Lee Ferran the perils for shipping companies nearly a decade after the ordeal of Capt. Richard Phillips and the Maersk Alabama.

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The 1968 California presidential primary was held on June 4. Shortly after being declared the winner, Bobby Kennedy was cut down. It was less than an hour after midnight, which made it officially June 5. He died the following day, June 6, 1968, just before 2 a.m. My job at the time was to tell people about it.
I was a “paperboy,” in the parlance of the day, 14 years old — the same age as Homer Macauley. He was the sensitive, if fictitious, World War II-era Western Union messenger of William Saroyan’s classic novel, “The Human Comedy.” Saroyan, one of California’s greatest writers, was taught in school at the time, and I knew that book well. Even before Kennedy’s death I had wondered how Homer Macauley and his real-life counterparts had managed to climb on their bicycles and deliver death notices to Gold Star mothers without crying.

I was about to find out.

A student at Sacramento’s Joaquin Miller Junior High School, I delivered the San Francisco Chronicle, which was the preferred morning newspaper of many politically aware Northern Californians. My route was big: 90 papers delivered seven days a week on a bicycle stripped down for speed and lightness. My daily trip was about five miles.

There was a lot of news that year, much of it deeply unsettling. Running in the primaries against an incumbent president in his own party, Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy had given Lyndon B. Johnson a scare in the March 12 New Hampshire primary, and LBJ subsequently announced he would not seek re-election. In between those two developments, Robert F. Kennedy entered the race. Six weeks after that, Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, a blow that seemed to break Gene McCarthy’s stride, if not his spirit. I know it sapped mine.

By the time of California’s primary, the Democratic presidential contest had come down to a tense race between Bobby Kennedy and Vice President Hubert Humphrey. I had first been a Humphrey kid, out of loyalty to LBJ; after meeting McCarthy at Sacramento Municipal Airport, however, I was all-in for Gene. Fourteen-year-olds can be fickle, however, and after RFK ushered in June with a stirring campaign swing through Sacramento and the Central Valley, I switched affections again, to “Bobby,” as everyone called him.

It was destined to be a short-lived love affair.

Like most Californians who had to get up early for school or work, I watched the election returns the night of June 4, and then went to bed, as a paperboy will do when his alarm is set every day to 5:45 a.m. The next morning, I didn’t sleep that late.

At 4:30, before the sun was up, my mother came into my room and told me gently, but firmly, to get out of bed and deliver the papers. I said they didn’t have to be delivered this early, and she replied that on this day, they did.

Bobby Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles, she told me. As I absorbed that shock, she delivered another: Because it had happened so late, the Chronicle’s out-of-town editions didn’t contain the news that people needed to know: namely, that four-and-a-half years after his brother had been assassinated in Dallas, RFK had been shot too, and was probably going to die. I might have to relay these facts to the people on my route.
“Where’s Dad?” I asked. The answer was that my father, a newspaperman, was still at work.

“He stayed there all night,” my mother told me. “But he called with the latest bulletin. He told me to write this down for you.”

Fighting back tears, my mother handed her oldest son a three-by-five card with the grim news from L.A. I was to read the latest news about RFK to my customers as I delivered their paper.

“No one will be awake at this hour.” I protested.

“Yes, they will,” she replied. “And they’ll want to know what happened.”

She was right. At every other house, it seemed, in those pre-cellphone, pre-email, pre-cable television, and pre-Internet days, a light was on. Through the windows I could see people at their kitchen tables, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, some listening to the radio, others with their face in their hands. At many houses, a resident — usually the woman of the house — came outside to meet their newsboy, who dutifully recited the information on his little card. Sometimes the women would start crying. Several of them hugged me in their grief.

My paper route usually took an hour. That morning, it took three. It’s too melodramatic to say that the kid who delivered those papers began his rounds as a boy and finished them as a man, but I will say that when I was done delivering those papers, I had acquired a searing appreciation for the power of the news.

And the news that week was unbearably sad. It was that Bobby would now be “” with Abraham, Martin, and John. At the , RFK’s younger brother, fighting back tears, spoke for his family and so many millions of other Americans as well.

“My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life,” Teddy said. “To be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

“Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world,” he continued. “As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:

‘Some men see things as they are and say why. 
I dream things that never were and say why not.’” 

Carl M. Cannon 
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter .