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Beran's 'Last Patrician' reconsiders Bobby Kennedy's politics

By CNN Interactive Writer
Jamie Allen

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Some might argue that being a liberal these days is getting to be difficult. Not only is the Democratic president leaning towards the middle road, but now a first-time author -- a conservative, no less -- is daring to claim partial ownership of hallowed ground: Robert F. Kennedy.

In "The Last Patrician: Bobby Kennedy and the End of American Aristocracy", Michael Knox Beran argues that Kennedy's politics weren't grounded in Rooseveltian liberalism. In fact, the seeds of a conservative were evident in his evolving political agenda.

The book, released in time for the 30th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination by Sirhan Sirhan, is sparking new debate on the life and times of the man who Beran refers to as "a master of the political art."

'Ronald Reagan in disguise?'

Bobby Kennedy, for many, seemed the last hope for the fading Camelot that his brother John imagined. When JFK was gunned down in Dallas in 1963, the weight was transferred directly to Bobby Kennedy's shoulders, and he seemed on the road to fulfilling that dream as he won the California primary in June 1968.

Of course, his tragic assassination will forever leave what might have been to history buffs and writers.

Read a review of "The Last Patrician"

Enter Beran, a Yale Law School grad and New York lawyer who has studied and admired Kennedy since early in his life. Beran says Kennedy was, first and foremost, a man who was willing to sacrifice his "political capital" to cure the nation's ills.

Kennedy, Beran argues, was "a politician who asked what we can do to solve our problems without relying on conventional wisdom of the time."

If that meant straying for liberal politics that shaped his early career, so be it, Beran says.

"I spent a lot of time (with) his speeches and his words and tried to stay away from other interpretations and I found that he was a complex man and it was impossible to affix any label to him," Beran says. "I don't think he himself would have accepted" the liberal label.

"I'm not saying that he was Ronald Reagan in disguise, but there were elements of a conservative in him."

'A different man'

"The Last Patrician" is a thorough examination of this argument, delving into the Kennedy "patrician" upbringing, numerous political issues of the time (ranging from welfare to liberal individualism) and major turning points in Kennedy's life.

Ironically, the assassination of his brother, Beran says, led Kennedy "to ask questions" rather than rely the political system, and that led him to new political frontiers.

"He became a different man after 1963," Beran says.

But Beran says he is not trying to steal away a statesmen, claim him for the conservative side. He merely wants to reflect on Kennedy's life and the possibilities that it offered.

"Some liberals will argue I'm completely wrong, but I think it's testimony to his stature that he can speak to a number of different political types today," he says. "I think that says a lot about him."

And RFK was moving beyond the status of one label. He, like his brother, was a complex person with faults and perfections, lights and shadows.

"I hope we remember he was tough and complicated man," Beran says. "We do a disservice if we don't remember the hard edges."

"I think a hundred years from now, I hope (the Kennedy years) will be seen as a high-water mark in American statesmenship. It's tremendously inspiring and I hope it is remembered," Beran says.


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