Robert Kennedy

Many liberals will always think of him as “the best President we never had.”

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Eleven years ago, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work on education. The liberal think tank that hired me focused on state issues, so I had nothing to do with the project that was consuming D.C. wonks at the time: a once-a-decade reauthorization of the mammoth federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act that would become the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

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Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of PowerBy Robert A. Caro (Knopf, 712 pp., $35) I. MANY LIBERAL Democrats have yet to come to terms with Lyndon Johnson.

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The clichéd phrase “debate season” is inescapable. There was a Republican debate on CNBC Wednesday night. Tomorrow will see another shootout, this one down in South Carolina. But these events seem to have won few fans. They are being mocked and denounced by everyone from Bill O’Reilly to MSNBC contributors.

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The Republican Party has never been confused with a nonprofit charity, but it was not so long ago that elements of the GOP enjoyed displaying a little human tenderness. Jack Kemp, the former football star and vice presidential nominee, is probably best known for his supply-side philosophy, but as a Congressman and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, he brought what The New York Times said was “more zeal to America's poverty problems than any national politician since Robert Kennedy.” Then there was George W. Bush.

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Right in a prominent location in yesterday's New York Times, there's a big story by Abby Goodnough, spread out over two pages, telling us that the Democratic candidate to succeed Ted Kennedy may lose. A big and really desperate photo, too, of the late senator's widow, Victoria, and Robert Kennedy's smiling (but probably still irascible) son Joseph, who used to be my congressman, and Teddy's successor-for-four-months Paul Kirk endorsing Martha Coakley, now attorney general of the Bay State. Don't get me wrong: I intend to vote for her on January 19.

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Let's understand this, just for starters. And I know that Nidal Malik Hasan was also crazy. But which suicide bomber, even one inspired by what the president continues to call the "Holy Koran," as if that nomenclature would moderate the hatred of America in the world of Islam, is not crazy? Stark raving crazy, in fact? (Just like the assassination of Robert Kennedy, to begin at the beginning, was an act of jihad, as well.

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Speculation as to who will succeed Ted Kennedy is proceeding apace, with his nephew, former Congressman Joseph Kennedy II, the likely frontrunner in the January 19 special election. The eldest son of Robert Kennedy, Joe held the House seat once occupied by his uncle John and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, representing Boston from 1987 until 1999. If he does run, Kennedy would start with a financial disadvantage.

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From TR to BHO

Not that my political history is so important. After all, no one in either the near or more remote environs of The New Republic required my enthusiasm for Barack Obama to kindle their own. As for my own enthusiasm--actually, it was at first a quizzical intrigue--it was sparked by the disciplined and thoughtful passion of my thirty-something children, first my film director (First Love, Last Rites; The Chateau; The Ex) son, soon thereafter my writer (Vanity Fair) daughter.

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Today marks forty years since Robert Kennedy was assassinated in a kitchen off a big ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He had just left the cheers of his supporters upon winning the California primary in which Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey were his opponents. Even though Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated barely two months before, Secret Service protection for presidential candidates did not yet then seem an especially formidable obstacle to mayhem and mischief.

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