JUNE 8, 2012 — Mention the word “Kennedy” in South Carolina, and a lot of people will stop reading or jump to preconceived conclusions. So bear with me.
Forty-four years ago this month, a gunman shot and killed presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy after a speech to supporters on his impressive win in the California primary. A U.S. senator, former attorney general and brother to a slain president, Bobby Kennedy was 42 years old.
In the years since his death, politics has become a real mess in America as political parties grasp for relevance among an increasingly skeptical populace. Many wonder whether Democrats and Republicans are really all that different as well-funded interests and media pandering have hijacked the political process from the rough-and-tumble machine politics of the past. People feel more and more irrelevant in what should be their government.
What Bobby Kennedy did for America in his time of turbulence was to allow Americans to dream, as his brother, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy remembered in a eulogy:
“My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. … As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought him: ‘Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.’”
Bobby Kennedy inspired my father-in-law, the late Owen Neff, when he served as a federal prosecutor of mob bosses under Kennedy was attorney general. Whenever you mentioned Kennedy’s name to Owen, he’d pause, reflect and soon wonder what America lost in 1968.
Bobby Kennedy inspired millions, black and white, rich and poor, with his platform of economic and racial justice, improving society, decentralizing power and ending the war in Vietnam. Over the last 44 years, perhaps no one, save Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, has inspired a nation as much as Bobby Kennedy.
|Georgia photographer Frank Sharp took this picture in June 1968 of Robert F. Kennedy at a Detroit rally just before he flew to California where he met his death.|
Had Kennedy been elected president in 1968, despite the odds against him getting the Democratic nomination because of entering the race so late, America would have been a different place.
“We could have done some things,” former U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings said this week. “We wouldn’t be bogged down like we are now.”
Historian Jack Bass remembered that the 1968 winner, Republican Richard Nixon, changed the country significantly over time by changing the Supreme Court with four appointees.
“If Kennedy had gotten elected, the whole thing would have been different. I think he would have been able to bring the whole country with him.”
The late author Warren Rogers, who was with Kennedy when he was shot in a crowded hotel kitchen, wrote in 1993’s “When I Think of Bobby,” that no one knows what kind of president he would have been, but that he would have challenged Americans — frightening some and encouraging millions.
“Yet, we do know there would have been no continuation of the Vietnam debacle because he would have ended the war in March of 1969, as he pledged, saving 35,000 Americans from death, and no Watergate scandal because he and not Richard M. Nixon would have been in the White House in 1972, and there would have been much, much more progress on civil rights and tolerance of racial diversity in America. Surely, we would be living in a different and perhaps a better world.”
And that’s what politics — particularly American politics — is supposed to be about: making things better for ordinary Americans.
In the months ahead as Republicans and Democrats defame each other in new and nastier ways, let’s keep our eyes on the ball and, like Bobby Kennedy, think about what’s best for the country, not just what’s best for the individual. Goodness knows, the country can use a little help in healing its wounds. Maybe RFK’s kind of pragmatic, political grace is just what the doctor ordered.
Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report and CharlestonCurrents.com, both of which published this commentary. You can reach Brack at: email@example.com.