In this month of June, so cruelly significant in the story of Robert Kennedy, remembrances would be expected. The New York Times ran simple and poignant tributes from three of his children, humble, gentle lessons from a life lived greatly. But as the media stuns, slaughters, rends, slices and finally serves up its cleanly packaged news, one might be struck by the sudden eruption of pseudo-reverent tributes linking Barack Obama to the memory of the fallen demigod. Kennedy's virtually mythic life---and death---has been regularly recalled when speaking of the current Democratic presidential nominee; indeed, almost anyone in the public eye armed with the requisite charisma and crowd appeal, in possession of relatively progressive ideas and who can incur the wrath of a clearly defined opposition is immediately compared with RFK or his equally lionized brother; it is, sad to say, as easily as an actress in a sitcom who executes a pratfall being automatically dubbed "the new Lucille Ball". Just a little too convenient and unfair to both parties. Kennedy's political journey and his emotional complexity seemed to defy categorization in life, yet he was perhaps too easily glorified in death, all terribly attractive to those who view history as an opportunity to make money. And without missing a beat, the media is seizing upon RFK's tragic legacy and applying crassly commercial redolence to the Obama phenomenon, rendering his historical movement as a novel way to fill the bottomless cup that is the 24 hour news cycle.
And when former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton utilized Kennedy's assassination as a motivational talking point on three separate occasions to justify her overlong presence in the primaries, Robert Kennedy's life and death became what so much of meaningful history has become: carelessly treated, easily disposable media fodder.
Because hanging over all the Obama-as-Bobby justifiable flattery is the whispered spectre of RFK's end, as if untimely death is an integral part of the plot, as it may seem to be with many pop icons who can all be counted on to flame out. Obama, though his ascension to icon status is assured, can do without the requisite tragic element. His authenticity and vision, however, does need to be protected, not only from the implied nightmare scenarios but from being utterly and pathetically mediocritized by shameless marketing. Obama is the direct result not just of Bobby or Jack or Martin or Malcolm or any other imperfect life perfected by martyrdom, he is the product of over two hundred years of American struggle and triumph, of all the turbulent times and dynamic personalities who dreamed of a better world for future generations of Americans and who called on their fellows to sacrifice for same.
There will only ever be one Robert Kennedy, who, like we all must, took the mortal journey but who of the few was able to do it with humility, intelligence and inspiration, who by turns experienced victory and defeat, hubris and humility, the deepest loss and the greatest glory of self-discovery. In Barack Obama there is all that and, with Robert Kennedy's legacy to act as an incomplete guide to what could be, even more.