Friday, June 5, 1998 Published at 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
Radical RFK revisited
Thirty years ago, America mourned the loss of its second great hope: Robert F Kennedy. Shot down in the kitchen of the Ambassador hotel in Los Angeles where he was celebrating victory in the California primary, his death was seen as the murder of promise for America.
According to Mr Beran, Bobby Kennedy was misunderstood. The perception that Kennedy embodied the excesses of the 1960s' radical chic - praising Che, letting his hair grow long, and listening to Jefferson Airplane - is misleading.
"He was critical of some of the fundamental assumptions of the great society liberalism of the time," said Mr Beran. "He declared - before anyone else in his party was willing - that the heritage of the New Deal was fulfilled and that the methods and techniques of the welfare states weren't working.
I think he was a man who was somewhat at odds with the spirit of his age and in fact somewhat ahead of the spirit of his time."
Glowing titles such as A Ripple of Hope: The life of Robert F Kennedy and Robert F Kennedy: Man Who Dared to Dream cast Bobby Kennedy as America's would-be saviour. The latest in this genre, also published this month, is written by Kennedy's son and namesake Robert F Kennedy Jr.
Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F Kennedy and the Words That Inspired Him is a collection of inspiring liberal quotes that illustrate Kennedy's dedication to the liberal cause. One, a speech on welfare reform, is precisely the kind of quote that convinces the public of Kennedy's liberal idealism:
"We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognise that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge. Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land."
"One of his favourite songs was To Dream the Impossible Dream," said Mr Beran. "I thought that was an apt characterisation of his politics but when I started to think about writing about him seriously, I discovered that I had a very mistaken impression.
"He was not at all a utopian radical. He had a real sense of the problems of American society ... and possessed a pessimistic streak that made him believe that the country was going to get worse before it got better."
Nor would it have been likely to please Bobby Kennedy himself. Kennedy would have certainly rejected the label of conservative.
Nevetheless after 30 years, a revisionist history of Bobby Kennedy is welcome. And Mr Beran's new interpretation of Bobby Kennedy is faithful to the hopes invoked by Teddy Kennedy at his brother's funeral.
"My brother need not be idealised, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world."