Buchwald recalls Kennedys in newly released interview

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BOSTON (AP) – In an interview columnist Art Buchwald insisted be kept from the public until after his death, the Kennedy family friend recalled their quirks and mourned Sen. Robert Kennedy as a man cut down before fulfilling his purpose.

“We don’t have history,” Buchwald said in the 1969 interview released Thursday. “We just have a half history of a man who might have been. And this is the second tragedy in a row because Jack Kennedy was the same kind of a man.”

Robert Kennedy had been assassinated during a presidential run in 1968, less than five years after President Kennedy’s assassination.

The tape, and the 62-page transcript of the interview, was released by the John F. Kennedy Library Presidential Library and Museum the day after Buchwald died at his Washington home at age 81.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning satirist gave the interview with the condition that it be held from the public and researchers for 20 years, or after his death, whichever came later.

Most of the interview with Roberta “Bobbie” Greene, who later became Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff while President Clinton was in the White House, is devoted to Buchwald’s recollections of Robert Kennedy, the subject of an oral history Greene was working on.

Buchwald came to know Robert Kennedy, the family member to whom he was closest, in the middle of his brother’s administration, in which Robert was U.S. attorney general.

But Buchwald peppered the interview with general observations of the clan’s quirks and characteristics.

“You see, the Kennedys are very overpowering. … They’re constantly putting people on the defensive. If you know it, and you can give it to them back, then that’s fine. But you can’t let them bully you,” Buchwald said.

Asked how much influence Sen. Edward Kennedy had on his older brother, Robert, Buchwald said, “I don’t think too much. I think there was a sibling rivalry between them. It might have been the opposite. Bobby might have had much more influence on Teddy.”

Buchwald recalled an incident when Edward Kennedy worked to free an American who was arrested in Czechoslovakia, but Robert Kennedy happened to be at the airport when the man arrived, and he greeted him.

“Bobby got all the publicity about this guy getting freed and Teddy was absolutely furious about it,” Buchwald said. “So this was just Bobby’s way of taking advantage of a situation.”

Buchwald dismissed contemporary characterizations of Robert Kennedy as “ruthless,” saying instead he was “pretty determined when he wanted something.” At the same time, he said Robert Kennedy was a “Hamlet figure” who wavered before deciding to run for president in 1968 and also may have struggled with feeling inferior to his brothers.

Robert Kennedy revered John F. Kennedy, calling him “President Kennedy,” even in private conversation, Buchwald said. But Buchwald credited Robert Kennedy with being more effective than his brother in certain ways.

“He was, I think, even more of a doer than President Kennedy, in that he really was man of action,” Buchwald said. “Whereas I would say with President Kennedy, he might be more a man of words.”

Buchwald said the Kennedys were generally fans of his work, even though they occasionally were the targets of his columns. And he emphasized that he kept enough distance from Robert Kennedy to maintain his journalistic integrity, saying he “wasn’t that close to Bobby.”

Still, when reflecting on Robert Kennedy at the end of the interview, he recalled his devotion to family and “constant optimism.”

“When I think of him, I think of him as a man who inspires, who inspired a lot of people, strangers, as well as friends,” Buchwald said. “He was much more complex than his brother Jack, even more complex than Teddy.”

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