Academic journal article American Studies

PRESIDENT OF THE OTHER AMERICA: Robert Kennedy and the Politics of Poverty

Academic journal article American Studies

PRESIDENT OF THE OTHER AMERICA: Robert Kennedy and the Politics of Poverty

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT OF THE OTHER AMERICA: Robert Kennedy and the Politics of Poverty. By Edward R. Schmitt. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. 2010.

Snapshots of the 1960s fill many pages of the scrapbook of the American century. These images display the heroism of the unknown masses as well as the achievements of the Great Men of the Moment. The few pictures here that capture the relationship between the giants on the mountaintop and the masses that fought injustice from the bottom-up depict scenes of a middle-aged white man in shirtsleeves, a thick mop of hair covering one eye, being pulled by throngs of young people of color. These are portraits of Robert F. Kennedy and the thousands of poor Puerto Ricans, Latinos, Native Americans, and African Americans who were in the thick of the era's battle for American democracy and with whom he came to share common cause. Seeking to transcend the standard political biographies of Kennedy, Edward Schmitt's President of the Other America: Robert Kennedy and the Politics of Poverty places this scene at the center of his story.

In the mode of Thomas Jackson's treatment of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s social philosophy in From Civil Rights to Human Rights (2006), Schmitt's project here is to show us the genealogy of Kennedy's 1968 campaign as the poor peoples' presidential candidate. Relying upon a conventional variety of archival sources and grounded firmly in the political and policy histories of the War on Poverty, the book takes us from RFK's introduction to the "Other America" during his brother's campaign to win West Virginia in 1960 to his own adoption of the issue as a domestic policy priority during his senatorial campaign in 1964. A naïf about the realities of life on the other side of the tracks, Kennedy at first made personal connections with civil rights leaders and human rights activists for political gain. The more he learned about the conditions of poverty on Indian reservations, among migrant workers, and in urban slums, however, the more incensed he became. Schmitt paints a portrait of a man of privilege to whom poverty had been invisible. And when the scales were removed from his eyes, he became a man who truly saw. Thus, unlike other generals in the poverty war, Kennedy's ideology was shaped by genuine outrage.

Unlike Jackson's book, though, Schmitt's gives readers little substantive insight into RFK's journey through the thicket of ideas prevailing in midcentury social policy about poverty. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.