He stands in an open-air convertible, a boat of a car as long as a suburban driveway, with two couches for seats and a giant spindle of a steering wheel, while this black-colored body of steel and rubber cruises a four-lane boulevard in South Los Angeles. The sun is in his face, brightening his smile and bronzing his skin, as he runs his hand through a wave of brown (with strands of blond and gray) hair. He is a gymnast of a politician, maintaining his balance against the pull of the crowd and the push of the car, bending his knees to touch the men and women who grab him and want if not a pound of flesh then some other totem of his existence: a shoe, a cufflink, a tie clip. He is Robert Francis Kennedy, Democratic candidate for his party’s presidential nomination.
He is the star of the Netflix documentary “Bobby Kennedy for President,” a four-part series on the life and times of the late senator from New York.
The footage is neither a paean to liberalism, nor a polemic against conservatism, but a profile in the contradictions of a man who was pious yet pugilistic.
He was a fighter, always, but one who chose his battles wisely. He was a patrician with popular appeal and a populist streak, whose accent was more Brahmin than blue-collar; whose allegiance was more to Harvard than Hibernia; whose career was even more catholic than his abiding faith in the Roman Catholic Church. He embraced his religion, more in the fields and in the streets than in the pews of our grandest cathedrals.
He broke bread with Cesar Chavez at an outdoor Mass, where the two accepted Communion and renewed their bond as brothers in Christ. He renewed his bond with all men—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—when he spoke from his heart, in the heartland of America, to announce the death of Martin Luther King Jr.
He spoke about the murder of his own blood brother. He spoke with charity for all, and malice toward none, because he refused to have the worst among us corrupt the best within this last best hope of earth.
He died as he had lived, having put America first.
He was a great American.