I have been meaning to write about whom I support in the Democratic primary. In January I backed all three main candidates. Basically, it was a case of any good Democrat being infinitely better than Bush. After John Edwards dropped out, I supported the two remaining.
As it came time for the New York primary and it looked like Barack Obama was becoming more likely to win the nomination, I was not yet quite sure who would be the better choice. I was not the only one. I hoped that the race would continue a bit more. I wanted to vote for both. The ideal would be both on the ticket.
When I entered the voting booth with its manual levers, I determined that I would vote for both. First I voted for Obama, then unvoted for him and voted for Hillary Clinton.
Soon it was looking a bit more like a race, but almost immediately Clinton began playing dirtier and dirtier and really often very stupidly, and it became clear that Obama had a quality, a virtue, that she lacked.
I decided for Barack.
Yesterday I was preparing for interviews about the new edition of my book The Gospel According to RFK: Why It Matters Now and viewed on the Internet Robert Kennedy's gravestone at the Arlington National Cemetery. There are two epigraphs. One is from the Day of Affirmation speech he gave in South Africa in 1966.
The other is from his extemporaneous speech announcing on April 4, 1968, to a crowd in a black neighborhood of Indianapolis that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. On the gravestone, it reads:
"Aeschylus wrote: 'In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart and in our despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.' What we need in the United States is not division, what we need in the United States is not hatred, what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people."
Everyone comments on how brave Bobby was to be there and say that. It is often said that he was speaking out of remembered grief at his brother's assassination. Others comment on the Aeschylus. After JFK's death, Bobby had been reading the Greek classics to try to find ways to go on.
The Aeschylus is from Agamemnon. It is spoken, or really sung, by the chorus of Greek elders as they await the return of the Greek troops from an endless, pointless war in Iraq, I mean, Troy.
As RFK quotes the Greeks, the Vietnam war is happening and haunting him, too, and World War II, ended only 23 years before, perhaps too, in which millions died, including his oldest brother, is in his mind, and the Trojan war.
The Greek elders hope that from such pain comes wisdom.
Then Kennedy takes up that word, and his voice becomes full of emotion. "What we need in the United States is not division, what we need in the United States is not hatred, what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom and compassion...."
Wisdom. Twice engraved in the RFK gravestone.
Then also came the word again in the Time interview with Toni Morrison reported on the Huffington Post:
"I thought about voting for Hillary at the beginning. I don't care that she is a woman. I need more than that. Neither his race, his gender, her race or her gender was enough. I needed something else, and the something else was his wisdom."
Anyone who really took to heart the speech RFK gave after Martin Luther King's assassination would need to think about what wisdom is.
Hillary has experience and programs, some good, some bad, but when it comes to judgment or wisdom, Barack trumps her.
He spoke out against the war before the vote to authorize the use of force came before the Congress. She voted for the use of force. I can only think that she felt her vote would give her national security credibility if she ever ran for president. She was not alone: Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, John Edwards were all planning to run in 2004. They wanted to be on the winning side.
They voted for war.
How could they have been so wrong?
In the fall of 2002, I knew Bush was lying about the reasons to go to war.
I knew that we didn't need to go to war.
I knew that if America invaded Iraq, that country would explode in civil war, because it had three antagonistic ethnic groups. Saddam Hussein kept the country together, through fear, terror, and efficiency.
I knew it would be a disaster, a great tragedy.
If you are reading this on the Huffington Post, a million to one you too knew.
Love and wisdom and compassion.
How can people agree to such a war and still have love and wisdom and compassion? Perhaps they do not really have those qualities.
The Iraq war, I am convinced, will be considered the great tragedy of our times.
It did not need to happen.
It has led to a million dead, two million refugees.
It has destroyed the land where civilization began.
But that's just the beginning.
It has taken resources and attention away from the greatest threat of all, global warming, and now, seven years after Bush was inaugurated, the world will never be the same.
It's such a cliche, waking to NPR on the clock radio telling you the world's about to end.
But the radio came on the other week, and I woke to NPR reporting that the forests of western Canada, in a region the size of Pennsylvania, are dying. The beetles that love to eat them are reproducing faster in the warmer weather. The beetles can't help it. Don't blame them. And because global warming is killing the forests, global warming increases because living forests slow global warming.
Every natural disaster is worse because of global warming.
Hurricane Katrina was more severe, the drought in Darfur more severe, the cyclones in Myanmar more severe.
If the world's attention had not been diverted to the insanity of Bush's destruction of Iraq, we could have ameloriated these.
We can blame Bush for the million dead in Iraq, but also the millions killed in natural disasters caused by global warming.
Hillary Clinton, to this day, has not really apologized for her enabling vote to use force in Iraq and her many pro-war speeches.
And last year, she made the same kind of mistake by voting for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment that put Bush on the course to bombing Iran.
Obama was campaigning and did not vote but has said he would have opposed it.
And now Hillary speaks of obliterating Iran.
These issues call for what Obama terms judgment--or wisdom, to use Morrison's and RFK's word.
Choosing a president is deadly serious.
When America sneezes, as it did with the stolen election of 2000, pandemics are unleashed upon the world.
I wish people had been more serious in 2000.
Gore ran a silly campaign concentrating on the swing states and the lock box.
Nader swung the election to Bush.
Katherine Harris and the Republican Supreme Court sealed the deal.
The stolen election of 2000 was a disaster that led to countless more.
An election is deadly serious, even genocidally serious.
Barack Obama seems to me the best candidate for president since Robert Kennedy forty years ago.