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Robert Kennedy and Children

Robert Kennedy, when asked what was the main impression he and his siblings had of their father:

“What it really all adds up to is love—not love as it is described with such facility in popular magazines, but the kind of love that is affection and respect, order and encouragement and support. Our awareness of this was an incalculable source of strength. And because real love is something unselfish and involves sacrifice and giving, we could not help but profit from it…

Beneath it all, he tried to engender in us a conscience. There were wrongs which needed attention. There were people who were poor and needed help. And we have a responsibility to them and to this country. Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off.”


I like this quotation for several reasons, not the least of which is because it features a nod to the headiest chapter in all the Gospels, Luke 12. The verse that Robert is implicitly referencing is Luke 12:48, which famously declares, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” And Robert and his brothers and sisters certainly had been given much, and much to the credit of the hard work of Joseph Kennedy, Sr. This is not to say that Joseph Kennedy was an ideal role model in all respects — see David Nasaw’s new book The Patriarch for details — but rather to recognize the tenacious love he had for his brood.

This quote is also very characteristic of Bobby Kennedy in the sense that he always associated such high ideals — like love, order, and respect — with the history and politics of the United States. He usually couldn’t help but filter everything he read, and direct everything he said, back to that great subject that he relished and revered so much: the U.S. political system. I do not know if his reference to the Gospel of Luke was conscious or not, however I’m sure that such a connection was not accidental. Robert absorbed and took seriously the idea that there were less fortunate in our society, just as he embraced the philosophy (rightly or wrongly) that government can act in order to better their lives.

To bring this full circle, back to notions of family, trust, and love, here’s what Lem Billings, a lifelong friend of the Kennedy boys, said about the relationship between John and Bobby:

“Up until the Bay of Pigs, Jack had more or less dismissed the reasons his father had given for wanting Bobby in the cabinet as more of a tribal, familial thing. But now he realized how right the old man had been. When the crunch came, family members were the only ones you could count on. Bobby was the only person he could rely on to be absolutely dedicated. Jack would never have admitted it, but from that moment on, the Kennedy presidency became a sort of collaboration between them.”

Kennedy family