Dreaming of Things That Never Were

It was a Pyrrhic victory. It was a battlefield win in a political war that was lost. It was an uncontested primary, not a real contest between two candidates for their party’s presidential nomination. It was a triumph of favoritism on behalf of a charismatic opponent, while the other man—a native of the Golden State—spent the day in the Sunshine State.

Thus did Ronald Reagan win the 1968 California Republican presidential primary. He ran unopposed, with 100,186 votes from 1,705 precincts, according to the June 5 edition of the New York Times.

It was a half-century ago today when Californians went to the polls. It was the last primary of the Democratic presidential campaign. It was the second-to-last day in the life of Robert F. Kennedy.

He was in the same hotel, where, eight years earlier, Richard Nixon had seen the forecasts and heard the predictions; where, after midnight in the West, in front of a blackboard and behind a bank of microphones, with the numbers written in chalk and the outcome already in print, Nixon spoke about a trend that, should it continue (and it did), would conclude with John F. Kennedy as the next president of the United States.

It was past midnight, too, when Robert Kennedy greeted his supporters at the Ambassador Hotel. Unlike the mood in 1960, where Nixon was ambassadorial in his words and diplomatic in his demeanor, Kennedy was confident but not cocky. He was supposed to go on to Chicago—and win there. He never made it.

He died in Los Angeles. His funeral was at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. His burial was at Arlington National Cemetery.

Let us remember his best deeds and his most eloquent demands for justice. Let us also ensure we enter his achievements into the permanent record. Let us be true to his entire record.

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