Robert F. Kennedy's remarks at the University of Kansas

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Robert F. Kennedy's remarks at the University of Kansas were given on March 18, 1968. He spoke about student protests, the Vietnam War, and the gross national product. At the time, Kennedy's words on the latter subject went relatively unnoticed, but they have since become famous.


Kennedy had given his first campaign speech earlier that morning at Kansas State University before flying into Lawrence Municipal Airport to give his speech at the University of Kansas. Classes were cancelled in advance of Kennedy's appearance.[1]

The speech[edit]

The speech was delivered at 1:30 PM in Phog Allen Fieldhouse before 20,000 people. The arena itself was over capacity; the school had only 16,000 enrolled students, and many sat on the basketball court, leaving only a minimal amount of open space around the lectern in the center.[2]

Shortly before the speech, Kennedy warned the student union, "Some of you may not like what you're going to hear in a few minutes, but it's what I believe; and if I'm elected president, it's what I'm going to do..."[3]


Most of Kennedy's speech was given extemporaneously, with phrases from older speeches linking together sections from his remarks at KSU. He began on the subject of the Vietnam War, calling for an end to the bombing campaign and negotiations with the Viet Cong.[2]

On the matter of student protests, he quoted William Allen White (a university alum), as he had in his earlier speech:

These words surprised many members of the audience.[1]

He continued onto the matter of poverty, expressing his own feeling of horror at the conditions poor Americans faced:[4]

He continued, borrowing imagery from Michael Harrington's book, The Other America:[4]

Kennedy notably outlined why he thought the gross national product was an insufficient measure of success.[Note 1] He emphasized the negative values it accounted for and the positive ones it ignored:[6]

Towards the end of his speech, he quoted George Bernard Shaw:[Note 2]

These words would become a centerpiece of Kennedy's presidential campaign, and he would repeat them on several occasions.[3]

Kennedy was interrupted 38 times during his speech for applause.[1]


It took Kennedy 15 minutes to make it out of the arena to his car. He later departed on a flight for Washington, D.C.. Campaign staffer Jim Tolan would later say of the students' reception, "It was the first time I was ever scared with [Kennedy]. Those kids were out of control. He could have gotten hurt they liked him so much."[2]


At the time, Kennedy's criticism of the gross national product didn't receive much attention, though it has since become famous,[7] receiving significant coverage in the writings of economic critics.[8] His words are credited as the beginning of the Beyond GDP movement.[6] In an interview in 2008, Barack Obama said that Kennedy's University of Kansas oration was "one of the most beautiful of his speeches."[9]


  1. ^ Kennedy's remarks on the gross national product bear much resemblance to comments he made during a speech he gave on May 5, 1967 in Detroit at the Jefferson–Jackson Dinner.[2][5]
  2. ^ The words came from Shaw's play Back to Methuselah. Robert's late brother, President John F. Kennedy, had used the same quote while addressing the Irish Parliament in 1963.[3]


  1. ^ a b c "CHARISMA AMIDST THE CHAOS". KU History. University of Kansas. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d Newfield, Jack (1988). Robert Kennedy: A Memoir (reprint ed.). New York: Penguin Group. pp. 64, 234–235. ISBN 0-452-26064-7.
  3. ^ a b c Thomsen, Brian M. (2010). The Dream That Will Not Die: Inspiring Words of John, Robert, and Edward Kennedy. Macmillan. pp. 126–127. ISBN 9781429935326.
  4. ^ a b Abramsky, Sasha (2013). The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives. Nation Books. pp. 78–79. ISBN 9781568589558.
  5. ^ Halberstam, David (5 March 2013). The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy. Open Road Media. ISBN 9781480405899.
  6. ^ a b Havens, John (2014). "18". Hacking Happiness: Why Your Personal Data Counts and How Tracking it Can Change the World. Penguin. ISBN 9781101621950.
  7. ^ Fox, Justin (2012). "The Economics of Well-Being". Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Publishing. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  8. ^ Durning, Alan (17 March 2008). "RFK & GDP, 40 YEARS LATER". Sightline Institute.
  9. ^ Leonhardt, David (20 August 2008). "Obamanomics". The New York Times Magazine.