If my first political memory was a child watching President Kennedy sending the Right Stuff
astronauts into space, my first political action was working for Al Lowenstein and Robert Kennedy in New York, before being old enough to drink or vote.
Robert F. Kennedy embodied an attitude, a spirit, a drive, and an American idealism that is deeply missed in our politics today, and tragically missed in America's global policies in the post 9-11 world.
Robert Kennedy was the ultimate insider and
the ultimate challenger of the status quo. He
understood that America's real greatness and
power was to lift our people with opportunity
at home, and to lift people around the world
with a true vision of a better life.
Robert Kennedy served in the Navy and grew
up in a family of war heroes, but understood
that America must always offer the world
hope, opportunity and social justice.
The cardinal sin of George W. Bush is that
he lives in a politics of fear, resentment, anger
and division that has created more terrorism,
more anti-Americanism, more damage to our national values and our global
leadership around the world than any President in our history.
The cardinal virtue of Robert Kennedy is
that he lived in a politics of hope and believed
that politics could be a noble profession where
American leaders could lift hearts, lift minds,
and lift hopes at home and everywhere.
This Thanksgiving the major motion picture
Bobby will open in theaters and hopefully
rekindle the RFK spirit among Democrats
With the Congressional election ended and
a presidential campaign about to begin, every
Democrat and every American should reflect
on the RFK vision of Americanism, American
politics and American global leadership.
When next campaign is in full swing in June
of 2008, America will commemorate the 40th
anniversary of the day Robert Kennedy was
taken from us, far too soon, in 1968.
We should remember that no politics is worthy
at home unless it lifts people up, brings people
together and moves the country forward. We
should remember that no policy will truly serve
our security and defeat terrorism unless it truly
offers people young and old around the world,
the prospect of a better life.
My generation and our country paid an
enormous price that John Kennedy, Martin
Luther King and Robert Kennedy were taken
from us, so prematurely.
Each of them achieved so much, none of
them lived long enough to reach their full
destiny as leaders, idealists and patriots.
So much of our history would have been
changed for the better had they reached
the peak of their potential in power, moral
and political, then been with us as elder
statesmen, from generation to generation.
Dreams die hard.
Dreams can be murdered by the assassin's
Dreams live on, with those who care to carry
Ted Kennedy was right in his moving eulogy
to Robert: he should not be idealized or
enlarged in death, beyond what he was
in life. He was a good and decent man
who saw war, and tried to stop it. He saw
suffering, and tried to heal it.
Robert Kennedy embodied the attributes that
make great men, great Presidents, great
leaders and great voices for America as
a beacon of hope in the world.
Robert Kennedy was a tough guy, a smart
political operative, a man who played to win.
RFK knew that winning was not everything,
it was only the beginning, but great deeds
are best accomplished by those who win.
Robert Kennedy was a conviction politician
who believed with his brother Jack, that the
rising tide should lift all boats. In 1968 RFK
was unique in American politics because he
reached out to working class whites who were
tempted by the divisive music of the right, he
reached out to inner city blacks who hungered
for a better life, he reached out to the grape
pickers in California when their bodies ached
from stoop labor, but their eyes remained high
with hope in our land of opportunity.
When the people of Poland dreamed that
freedom would overcome communism, RFK
was there, to cheering throngs. When the
people of Latin America dreamed that
democracy would triumph over right wing
death squads and communist dictatorships,
RFK was there, by their side, on in their
hearts, his picture along with Jack's in
When Cesar Chavez went on a hunger strike
for his workers, Robert Kennedy was there.
When Martin was murdered and cities rioted
across America, RFK was there, standing on
the streets of Indianapolis, telling an angry
and tearful community that his brother was
killed by a white man, too, but we must always live and fight for hope,
When South Africans suffered the tyranny of
apartheid, RFK was there, telling the people
that every brave action we take, is like a pebble
thrown into a lake, sending ripples of hope in
every direction that would someday change
Robert Kennedy was a man of ideas. He was
always surrounded by historians, novelists,
academics, thinkers, activists, producers,
actors, athletes, CEO's, astronauts and dissidents. He valued and
learned from all
points of view. He wanted to grow by hearing
about the full range of experiences of life.
RFK loved Martin Luther King and grew from
the young man who knew little about real
life for the poorest Americans, into the Attorney
General who sent the Justice Department
into the battle for integration. But RFK went
even further, listening carefully to black
activists of black power, working to promote
inner city capitalism, and listening even when
James Baldwin attacked his indifference,
and taking Baldwin's criticism to heart.
Robert Kennedy told people what they wanted
to hear, told people what they needed to hear, and told people what they
did not want to hear.
RFK opposed the Vietnam War before it was
widely fashionable. He took responsibility for
his own role in the early days of the war. He
went to a university in Indiana and when he
was confronted by pro-war students, asked
them directly: "How many of you who support
the war, have student deferments so others
will fight the war you support so strongly?"
For those of you too young to have experienced
those days, I would recommend two wonderful
works as a good place to start.
First, Norman Mailer's incredibly brilliant essay
about JFK titled: "Superman Comes To The
Supermarket." It was written during the 1960
Democratic Convention, originally published
in Esquire, is widely available today. Mailer
perfectly captures the existential heroism of
JFK, how his life experiences shaped his
character and leadership.
Second, the book about Robert Kennedy by
Jack Newfield, RFK: A Memoir. Newfield
originally wrote for the Village Voice, was
genuinely close to RFK and his love for
Robert Kennedy was equalled by his
willingness to criticize and challenge him
to live up to his fullest potential. Newfield
captures perfectly the existential nature of
Robert Kennedy's life, vision and leadership
and how every experience in RFKs life made
him larger, wiser and deeper.
Robert Kennedy was always learning, growing
and becoming. He was always challenging
himself and our country. He was always open
to any idea and more than any man of his
times, and more than any leader today, he invited every point of view
and tried to learn every lesson of life from the full diversity of
RFK was a man of power, privilege and money
who became the fierce and passionate voice
of the powerless, the victimized, the underdog
and the oppressed.
He saw a divided America and tried to bring it together. He saw the
hungry and homeless
and sought to be their voice. He saw an
America that was losing its way in the world,
and tried to get it back and rallied for the
cause from Eastern Europe to Latin America.
To this day, when I watch the reruns of history,
I still find myself banging the table and saying:
Jack, don't make that turn in Dallas! Martin,
stay far from that balcony in Memphis! Bobby,
do not go into that pantry in Los Angeles. No, no, no, no.
But today, as then, Robert F. Kennedy was
right. Everything we do, every action we take,
every cause we support, every battle we fight,
every hour we dare to dream that our great
country can always be better another pebble
is thrown in that lake, and ripples of hope flow slowly but surely in
Bobby is gone.
But we carry on.