Thursday, June 6, 2013

If Sirhan Sirhan had been stopped, what the world might have been

I dragged myself out of bed the morning of June 5, 1968, and turned on the television — something I wouldn't normally do — but I wanted to find out what happened in the California presidential primary. I was home from my first year of college and had not yet started a summer job. The newscast left me confused. Instead of reciting the primary results, the reporters were all gathered around a hospital, talking of wounds and prognosis and hopes. It took me a while to realize that they were talking about a shooting that had happened hours earlier in a back hallway at the Ambassador Hotel. Sen. Robert Kennedy lay gravely wounded with a bullet to the head. He would survive less than a day.

Forty-five years later, I wonder at how different the world might have been if someone had stopped Sirhan Sirhan in that hallway, taken away his pistol and stopped the nightmare. Could Kennedy have rested the Democratic nomination away from Vice President Hubert Humphrey? Late getting into the race, Kennedy had won a string of primaries and had instigated a wave of enthusiasm and hope — hope that the Kennedy legacy, cut short five years earlier in Dallas, might be revived.

But the odds were long. Party pols still controlled the nomination process, and they weren't lining up behind Bobby. The president, Lyndon Johnson, hated Bobby, and the feeling was mutual. Would the Chicago Democratic Convention have been as chaotic if Kennedy had been there to give an outlet to the many rank-and-file who felt left out and ignored? Could the Democrats have coalesced around Bobby and denied Richard Nixon his slim victory?

And if Bobby had become president, what might have transpired in Vietnam, in civil rights and in every other issue of the day? Would Bobby have launched a new investigation of the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination, an investigative panel not appointed by LBJ, whom Bobby, according to some reports, thought had a hand in the murder?

These are questions that cry out for an alternative history — a fictionalized account of what might have been, of what could have been, of what many people dreamed would happen.

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