THEY pronounce his boyish name with fear and derision or else with adoration and awe. To many enemies, he is more his father's son than his brother's brother. Indeed, it was old Joe himself who observed, "He hates just like I do." By this reckoning, Robert Kennedy is the spoiled dynast, reclaiming the White House as a legacy from the man he regards as a usurper. Yet to many who have worked closely with him, Bobby is like Jack, pragmatic and perceptive, tempered by history. Says Urbanologist Pat Moynihan: "Much has been given him and taken from him in life, and somehow he has been enlarged by both experiences."
Bobby himself notes with wry pride: "I am the only candidate opposed by both big business and big labor." Many foreign diplomats, especially Asians, fear that he might lead the U.S. back to isolationism. Orthodox politicians often cannot forgive his hauteur, and recoil at what seems to be his rule-or-ruin approach. He is unpredictable, uncontrollable. Would he attack agricultural subsidies? Farm groups wonder. How far beyond Medicare would he go in expanding Government medical services? Organized medicine worries. He speaks for tax reform and attacks the oil-depletion allowance, as others have for years, but Bobby might just be tough enough to get something done about it.
Crushed Argument. There are other Bobbys within that slim, taut, toothy exterior. If Michael Harrington discovered America's poor, Kennedy adopted them —not only in the urban ghettos, where the votes are, but also in the shacks of grape pickers, in the hillbilly hollers, along the rutted tobacco roads. He can communicate with the disinherited as few others of his race or rank are able to do. He can maul a William Manchester, then have the author serve as honorary chairman of a Kennedy for President club. He can be morose or merry, expansive or petty, merciless or magnanimous—all to an extreme degree. Says Lawrence O'Brien: "The pendulum just swings wider for him than it does for most people." For every Machiavellian maneuver there is a graceful gesture; for every half-truth or hyperbole there is a disarming pinch of self-depreciation: "You see what sacrifices I am willing to make to be President? I cut my hair."
He might just make it. For while Robert Francis Kennedy is succeeding Lyndon Baines Johnson as the nation's most controversial politician, while his complexities and contradictions are the subject of passionate debate, he is also proving that many somebodies out there like him enough to vote for him. Last week, following up his victories in the Indiana and Washington, D.C., Democratic primaries, Kennedy scored a smashing success in Nebraska.
The fact that he won 51% of the vote, against 31% for Senator Eugene McCarthy, was only part of his triumph. The combined loyalist vote in conservative, rural Nebraska—8% write-ins for Vice President Hubert Humphrey and 6% for Johnson, who remained on the ballot despite his non-candidacy—showed the extent of disaffection with the Administration, which Bobby did his share to provoke. And Kennedy's support was so broad in a state with only a 2% Negro population that it crushed the argument that his appeal is restricted to city dwellers, the black and the poor.