In recent weeks, the message coming from the Democratic Party—my party—is a slogan from the past. We’ve brought back “We can do better” a phrase used by President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
It makes sense to borrow something old, especially language that connects to Senator Robert F. Kennedy. There are parallels between his time and ours. We have a war that grows hopeless by the day and our economic injustices were made painfully clear when those hurricanes tore the roof off of our house.
But after a quick search of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s most famous speeches, I couldn’t find the phrase used once. It didn’t linger in the middle of “ripple of hope.” It didn’t hover in his address the night Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was murdered. And it didn’t repeat in his mournful speech to the Democratic Convention soon after President Kennedy’s assassination.
From what I could find, it was a sentence used on the stump, not as a frame. No doubt heartfelt, but it was a sentenced used for emphasis—a way to pull the audience along with the speech. It hardly addressed the troubled times we faced back then, and it still fails to address our troubles today.
This world of ours is a mess and that is the hard truth.
Nothing seems to be working. “Never again” seems to be happening again and again in the Sudan. Leaving Iraq better than the way we found it seems more impossible every day. Each day another young person sits on a lonely step in the Middle East and their disillusionment turns them into our enemy. The richest nations on the planet cannot enact basic steps to ensure that no child ever has to die of a preventable disease again. And Mother Nature seems to be taking advantage of our indifference to human suffering.
To think that more than 200,000 people no longer grace this world after the tsunami struck; nearly 55,000 have died since the earth shook in South Asia, and 11 million children died of preventable causes like malaria and pneumonia—well to think of it is just unbearable. And here, in America, nearly 2,000 men and women have perished in war and more than 1,200 are gone when the winds and the floods came and they could not get away. The loss of life over the last few months has had a toll on even the greatest of optimists.
One question that lingers heavy on the heart and a question Senator Robert F. Kennedy would have asked, “Who did we lose?
Did we lose the child who could have grown up to discover the cure for the disease that took her life? Did we lose an economic genius poised to bridge the great divides that plague this world? Did we lose the great peacemaker of our time? Who did we lose when the attics flooded in New Orleans? Who did we lose when the winds tore down those Mississippi homes? Who did we lose and what impact will that have on our world?
It is a tough way to look at the world. But it wakes you up. It wakes you up and makes you realize that we don’t have a moment to spare. It clears away theses big immediate distractions. It makes you say that yes the president’s poll numbers are falling. Yes, Karl Rover, Lewis Libby, and Tom DeLay, may fall too. If they broke the law, then they should fall hard. But then what?
The question remains: what in the world are we going to do about our world?
The phrase, “We can do better,” just doesn’t come close to answering that question. And Senator Robert F. Kennedy explains why. He said, “The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans.”
If we were still blessed to have Senator Robert F. Kennedy among the living, then I just don’t think that he would look at the tragedies on this earth and the challenges we face and think, "We can do better." Here are some ideas. "Let’s watch the other side fall apart.” I think he would have demanded that we get over the grave injustices that got us into this mess so that we could create a new destiny.
He would have felt the tick-tock of Father Time and demanded that we move toward the heavens and away from the ho-hum of political steps that take us no where but round in circles.
He would have called for a greatness our tough times demand. He would have said let our Party mirror the direction of America and human history and go forward. Let us declare that the age of indifference is over. Let us build a new destiny for America. Let us liberate the human spirit for it is not too late to “make gentle the life of this world.”
When will we be willing to make that leap of faith he did decades ago? When will we understand that the urgency of our times demands vision and courageous idealism? That now—not later—is when we must say that what is happening is wrong. That we will right it, not by merely putting band-aids on their mess, but by creating a new destiny for America.
“We can do better” than “we can do better.” Can’t we?