Thursday, June 4, 2009

Kitchen Nightmare

Forty-one years ago tomorrow, Bobby Kennedy took a wrong turn and it cost him his life and, maybe, changed the course of U.S. history.

It was June 5, 1968, when Kennedy, running for president as Democratic Senator from New York, was gunned down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

He died about 26 hours later in the hospital, never having regained consciousness after being shot in the head by Sirhan Sirhan.

It almost didn't happen that Sirhan even got a crack at RFK.

Kennedy had just won the California primary, and was looking like the front-runner for his party's nomination.

In one of the most often played pieces of film ever, Kennedy is seen wrapping up his victory speech at the podium in one of the ballrooms with the famous words, "And now it's on to Chicago and let's win there."

The crowd, which had gathered for hours waiting for Kennedy's arrival, roared.

Kennedy turns to his right, conducts a brief interview with a radio reporter, but then is ushered back to his left, toward the kitchen and pantry.

Apparently that was deemed to be the best and safest route from the ballroom to wherever he was headed.

You know the rest.


An iconic American image, sadly


Sirhan, a Palestinian angry at Kennedy's support of Israel, finagled his way through the tightly-bunched crowd in the kitchen, a pistol in his hand.

He got within inches of RFK, shouted, "Kennedy, you son of a bitch!" and fired.

It's one of the truest axioms you'll ever come across: Hindsight is 20/20.

Oh, if Kennedy was only allowed to go in the direction he initially took after moving away from the podium's microphone.

He likely would have won the Democratic nomination, and eventually the presidential election over Dick Nixon.

As it was, incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey darn near beat Nixon, and Humphrey wasn't deemed as strong a candidate as RFK.

How would history have changed had Kennedy won in '68?

College theses have been written trying to answer that question. So far be it for me to answer it here.

But it's safe to say that RFK would have ended the Vietnam War much sooner than it did, and with the image of his brother's shortened presidency still fresh in people's minds, there would have been a feeling of "unfinished business" that very well could have carried RFK on to re-election in 1972.

Instead, we had five-and-a-half years of Nixon, with the Watergate Scandal popping up like a boil.

And Spiro Agnew, the only vice president in history to resign.

Fun times!

An eight-year RFK run would have changed the political landscape, though it's unclear just how.

Hey, maybe there's no Ronald Reagan presidency, for example.

The perfect storm of events that swept Jimmy Carter out of office might not have existed.

Who knows.

One of the most ironic things was barked out that night in 1968, as Kennedy lay mortally wounded on the floor of the Ambassador ballroom kitchen.

As several people wrestled with Sirhan, trying to get the gun away from him (he fired all six rounds before all was said and done), there was also fear for the assassin's safety.

"We don't want another Oswald!" someone is heard yelling on the audio recording of the mayhem, referring to how John Kennedy's killer was subsequently offed himself.

Well, no, I guess we didn't want that.

But we didn't want another JFK, either.

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