Anyone would be grief stricken by the loss of a close sibling. When President John F. Kennedy was killed, the nation grieved with the family. But it must have been a very special kind of hell for Robert Kennedy. He worked for, with, and alongside John Kennedy for most of his adult life. He loved and admired his brother with what appeared close to worship.
In 1964, just a few months after the assassination, he found himself running a lackluster campaign for the United States Senate in New York. Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating had long been a critic of President Kennedy, and he took on Bobby with enthusiastic vehemence.
In September, just 10 months after Dallas, Keating challenged his famous opponent to a televised debate. Bobby, still campaigning listlessly, turned down the opportunity, at least at first. Keating was distinguished, silver haired, and projected a paternal charm. Kennedy felt as if he would look like he was arguing with everybody's father. And, let's face it, his heart was not in it.
Then Keating did something that got the old anger going. He, essentially, called Kennedy a coward. Keating bought a half hour of television time, set up an empty chair with Kennedy's name on it, and spent the purchased time on live television debating that chair. He dramatically pointed to that chair again and again, drawing attention to his challenger's absence, Bobby Kennedy's fear of honest confrontation.
A half hour on a local station wouldn't do much in and of itself, of course. But Keating was an old political hand. He was counting on a ton of free publicity, and he got it. Television stations from all over the state showed up, cameras rolling. That's when things came apart.
Kennedy got angry, and his anger fired him up. He showed up at the studio where Senator Keating was about to go on the air. Keating, not wanting to chance any disruption of his perfectly staged moment, had left instructions. His aides followed those instructions with precision. They locked the studio doors and refused to let Kennedy in.
But Kennedy had attracted attention as well. He was surrounded by press, reporters, and cameras, and cameras, and cameras. Lots and lots of cameras. All operational and ready to broadcast. As Keating's half hour rolled on, audiences across New York State saw Keating pounding his podium, pointing an accusing finger at the empty chair, the chair with Kennedy's name on it. They also saw, some on split screen, some in alternating cutaways, Bobby Kennedy outside the studio, pounding on the locked doors, with Keating's people in the door window refusing to allow Kennedy through those doors.
The "coward" label drifted away from Bobby Kennedy, and settled nicely around the neck of Senator Kenneth Keating, who became ex-Senator Keating.
That was a long time ago. Bobby was taken from us. Small children then have since grown to become parents and grandparents. But some memories die hard. And sometimes, current events bring them back.
John Brunner is a candidate for the United States Senate here in Missouri. He wants to unseat Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. He is running against two other Republicans for his party's nomination, Congressman Todd Akin and former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman.
He advertises himself as a successful businessman. His GOP opponents have been gentle about this claim. In fact, his position with the corporation he once led was inherited. The company has been in his family for a century. The business makes Germ-X hand sanitizer, which kills the germs that make you sick without water, towels, or rinsing. Go buy some right away and protect your loved ones without making them use a sink. Just don't have them shake my hand.
A couple of weeks ago, John Brunner got some local media coverage by issuing a challenge. KMOX, the local, fairly conservative, radio and television broadcast center, gave him some play.
ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - One of the Republican U.S. Senate Candidates in Missouri wants the debate season to begin.
John Brunner called for a series of debates with his primary opponents Congressman Todd Akin and Sarah Steelman. He sent both their campaigns a letter asking that debates be held as soon as possible before the August Primary election.
The next day, John Brunner's campaign manager got just a little more pointed. He suggested that the Republican opponents wouldn't be allowed to escape debating Brunner on some technicality. "Too often, politicians try to score points in the media by 'debating debates."
Here's the problem for Brunner. Representative Akin and former State Treasurer Steelman not only accepted, but the ideal forum had already been offered. Kansas City Reporter Micheal Mahoney takes note on his web site:
KTRS radio morning host McGraw Milhaven is arranging a January 10, 2012 debate for 9 AM, the final hour of his radio broadcast. he says it will be a commercial free hour. He hopes KTRS’ partner, the on-line newspaper The St. Louis Beacon, will also take part.
Milhaven says Republican Senate candidates Todd Akin and Sarah Steelman have agreed to appear. John Hancock of the Brunner campaign says Brunner will not participate
Huh? John Brunner seems to want to wash his hands of the entire idea. Without water, towels, or rinsing.
Yup. The Brunner people object to the fact that a member of the media is setting up the debate. The terms of the debate should be, you know, negotiated among the representatives of the campaigns of the candidates. Details need to be worked out. Debates need to be debated before they are held. Kind of like international treaties are worked out.
Besides, Brunner gets lots and lots of offers to debate. Reporter Micheal Mahoney quotes a Brunner campaign representative.
“We’re not going to debate every night for the next nine months,” said Hancock.
"It’s not in our interest. I don’t think it’s in the voters’ interest.”
The other Republicans really ought to carry in an empty chair with John Brunner's name on it.
Just remember to keep the studio doors unlocked.
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