Author: Ross Baker

Robert Kennedy, Improbable Liberal Hero

There is something about middle children, especially in large families. They often struggle to define themselves. Robert Francis Kennedy was the ultimate middle child. Until shortly before his untimely death 50 years ago, he was still embarked on that struggle of self-determination. Kennedy’s early career included working as a Senate staff member for the right-wing demagogue Sen. Joseph McCarthy. It would have been reasonable to conclude that as a young conservative he could only move farther right as he aged. Kennedy turned the tables on the conventional wisdom by moving — both by circumstance and by calculation — in a more liberal direction. But it was a distinctive liberalism that was shaped by his origins in a family that, despite their enormous wealth, were regarded as outsiders. I’m a political scientist who studies American government and U.S. legislative politics and I’ve worked as an adviser to Democrats in the Senate and House. It is clear to me that Robert, much more than his older brother John, was shaped by the tribalism of Massachusetts politics in …