David Halberstam was one of America’s most distinguished journalists & historians. My introduction to him came when I read The Fifties, a decade full of interesting information. He mentions the origins of motels along the highway, fast food as in McDonalds, and the birth of advertising by discussing Leo Burnett Advertising in Chicago; a company where my husband became one of the five vice president’s. This was a time when shaking a man’s hand across the desk meant something. Without Burnett there would be no Tony the Tiger in Kelloggs, no Marlboro Man, no Pillsbury Dough boy. Bob was not in the creative end of the business but the money side…you have a million dollars to spend, this is the plan how we will spend it. The research and writing about this period is fascinating in Halberstam’s hands. The likes of him have drifted away from today’s world of journalism.
When Amazon Books offered The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy, at a low price, I added it to my Kindle library. I need to know what was happening in Halberstam’s life while writing this book because it was not particularly well written. He never fails with his research, however. The time period in The Unfinished Odyssey focuses on Kennedy’s decision to run for President in 1968.
Eugene McCarthy has been given considerable space in the early pages as he announced before Kennedy that he was getting in the race. The book is in no way a definitive Kennedy tale. There are few personal stories, and it ends with a nod to his death without detail or comment. Nonetheless, I’m glad I read it and was amazed at how Johnson’s run for a second term is similar to Biden’s problem today. The country was not buying Johnson’s selling of the Vietnam War and Biden talks about everything but inflation, which the country is really concerned about. Johnson wasn’t listening to the country and neither is Biden. When I finished the book I became convinced that those who advise the current president have never read a book.
I felt great empathy for Robert Kennedy with the tragic death of his brother. From previous reading I’d done about Robert, I became attracted to his Irish soul that has a poetic turn. His political interests were but one side of the coin. When left to his own devices, I think his flip-side is compelling. Kennedy said his favorite poem was by Aeschylus who wrote-
Biden is in the same predicament as Johnson had been. (The Unfinished Odyssey was written in 2013.) Halberstam writes, “Johnson, is going out with a list of achievements, the laundry list, all these bills he’s passed, all these things he’s done. What he doesn’t realize is that the people he’s trying to convince don’t care: he hasn’t answered the questions that bother them. It’s become a moral question, a question of values. He hasn’t got their answers.”
As people began going for McCarthy, the money came in. If it was coming in to McCarthy, then it was also not coming into Lyndon Johnson. This was one more sign that he was in serious trouble, sitting President or not, he would need money and he would need active volunteers, and his chances of getting them were diminishing every day. Politically too, he was paying a price for the increasing isolation of the White House, If the country had paid a price in the exodus of talented men from the White House because of Vietnam, now, strikingly without talent, it faced a national election.”
Robert Kennedy could bring into American politics some of the best people in the game: fresh, intelligent, even joyous men of a variety of views, and he could inspire them to an extraordinary degree. More than anything the Rocky Mount City Council needs fresh, intelligent, joyous men. Tom Harris and ‘J Kelly’ have stepped up to the plate to give it a go. Let us hope our two good men have read lots of books about honor and achievement and are bringing joyous hearts to the job. This blog post is dedicated to them on the occasion of their elections.
TOM HARRIS ‘JKELLY’ WALKER