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IDEALISM DIED WITH RFK: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 12, 2020 at 1:26 am

On March 18, 1968, Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, speaking at the University of Kansas, called on his fellow citizens to show compassion for those less fortunate and in need of relief through the Federal Government.

“If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us.  We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.”

Finally, Kennedy did something almost no other politician—in his time or since—has ever done: He dared to attack that holy-of-holies, the Gross Domestic Product (then called the Gross National Product).

“If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us.  We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.

“Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product….counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. 

“It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. 

“Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. 

“It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.  And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans….

Senator Robert F. Kennedy campaigning for President

“George Bernard Shaw once wrote, ‘Some people see things as they are and say why?  I dream things that never were and say, why not?’ 

“So I come here to Kansas to ask for your help. In the difficult five months ahead, before the convention in Chicago. I ask for your help and for your assistance. 

“If you believe that the United States can do better.  If you believe that we should change our course of action.  If you believe that the United States stands for something here internally as well as elsewhere around the globe, I ask for your help and your assistance and your hand over the period of the next five months.

“And when we win in November….and we begin a new period of time for the United States of America, I want the next generation of Americans to look back upon this period and say as they said of Plato: ‘Joy was in those days, but to live.’  Thank you very much.”

At the end of Kennedy’s wildly popular speech at Kansas State University, photographer Stanley Tretick, of Look magazine, shouted, “This is Kansas, fucking Kansas! He’s going all the fucking way!” 

But he didn’t go all the way. On June 5, 1968—82 days after announcing his Presidential candidacy—an assassin’s bullet suddenly halted his short-lived campaign—and his life.  

Robert Kennedy: On One California Night, Triumph and Tragedy ...

Robert Kennedy’s funeral train

Historian William L. O’Neil delivered a poignant summary of Robert Kennedy’s legacy in his 1971 book, Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960′s:

“He aimed so high that he must be judged for what he meant to do, and through error and tragic accident, failed at…..He will also be remembered as an extraordinary human being who, though hated by some, was perhaps more deeply loved by his countrymen than any man of his time. 

“That, too, must be entered into the final account, and it is no small thing. With his death, something precious vanished from public life.”

As United States Attorney General (1961-1964) Robert F. Kennedy had the courage to wage all-out war on the Mafia. As a United States Senator (1964-1968) he had the compassion to champion aid to impoverished Americans.

Even in his own era—a half-century ago—Robert Kennedy stood out as the only major Presidential candidate who could legitimately make both claims. 

Today, most Democrats—battered by decades of Republican charges that they’re “big spenders”—fear supporting big-ticket items to help the poor.

And the Black Lives Matter movement has made any connection to law enforcement a disqualification for higher office—as former California Attorney General Kamala Harris found out as a 2020 Presidential candidate.

America may never again see a Presidential candidate who can combine a strong stand against crime with an equally strong commitment to helping the poor and disadvantaged. 

IDEALISM DIED WITH RFK: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 11, 2020 at 12:07 am

On March 18, 1968, Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy did what few politicians have ever done: He accepted public responsibility for a war that had since become a national disaster—the Vietnam war.

Addressing a packed audience of students and faculty at Kansas State University, he said:

“Let me begin this discussion with a note both personal and public. I was involved in many of the early decisions on Vietnam, decisions that helped set us on our present path.

“It may be that the effort was doomed from the start; that it was never really possible to bring all the people of South Vietnam under the rule of the successive governments we supported—governments, one after another, riddled with corruption, inefficiency, and greed; governments which did not and could not successfully capture and energize the national feeling of their people.

“If that is the case, as it well may be, then I am willing to bear my share of the responsibility, before history and before my fellow citizens. But past error is no excuse for its own perpetuation. Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.

“Now as ever, we do ourselves best justice when we measure ourselves against ancient tests, as in the Antigone of Sophocles: ‘All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only sin is pride.’ 

Sophocles pushkin.jpg

Sophocles

And he dared to attack the war as more than a military and political disaster: He saw it as a stain on America’s moral fiber: 

“Can we ordain to ourselves the awful majesty of God—to decide what cities and villages are to be destroyed, who will live and who will die, and who will join the refugees wandering in a desert of our own creation?

“If it is true that we have a commitment to the South Vietnamese people, we must ask, are they being consulted—in Hue, or Ben Tre, or in the villages from which the three million refugees have fled?

“If they believe all the death and destruction are a lesser evil than the Wet Cong, why did they not warn us when the Viet Cong came into Hue, and the dozens of other cities, before the Tet Offensive? Why did they not join the fight?

“Will it be said of us, as Tacitus said of Rome: ‘They made a desert and called it peace?'”

Appreciating Bobby Kennedy's Stunning Transformation - HISTORY

Robert F. Kennedy

The students gave him an ovation worthy of a rock star. 

Time correspondent Hays Gorey said the electricity between Kennedy and the K.S.U. students was “real and rare.” “A good part of it is John F. Kennedy’s, of course, but John Kennedy …himself couldn’t be so passionate, and couldn’t set off such sparks.”

Jim Slattery, who would later be elected to Congress from Kansas, reread the K.S.U. speech during the second Iraq war and decided it was so powerful “because Kennedy was talking about what was right!”

As Kennedy started to leave, students rushed the platform where he stood, knocking over chairs and grabbing at him. They stroked his hair and ripped his shirtsleeves.

Later that day, Kennedy addressed another wildly enthusiastic audience—at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, Kansas.

Then he addressed the glaring disparities between rich and poor Americans—a topic now generally ignored by Democrats and turned into an attack line by Republicans:

“All around us, all around us….men have lost confidence in themselves, in each other. It is confidence which has sustained us so much in the past. Rather than answer the cries of deprivation and despair….hundreds of communities and millions of citizens are looking for their answers, to force and repression and private gun stocks— so that we confront our fellow citizen across impossible barriers of hostility and mistrust.

I Dream of a World Powered by 100% Renewable Energy | Nikola Power

Robert F. Kennedy talking with black children

“And again, I don’t believe that we have to accept that.  I don’t believe that it’s necessary in the United States of America.  I think that we can work together. I don’t think that we have to shoot at each other, to beat each other, to curse each other and criticize each other, I think that we can do better in this country.  And that is why I run for President of the United States….

“I have seen children in Mississippi starving, their bodies so crippled from hunger and their minds have been so destroyed for their whole life that they will have no future.  I have seen children in Mississippi—here in the United States—with a gross national product of $800 billion dollars.

“I have seen children in the Delta area of Mississippi with distended stomachs, whose faces are covered with sores from starvation, and we haven’t developed a policy so we can get enough food so that they can live, so that their children, so that their lives are not destroyed, I don’t think that’s acceptable in the United States of America and I think we need a change.”

IDEALISM DIED WITH RFK: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on August 10, 2020 at 1:37 am

He remains forever frozen in time—young, vigorous, with tousled hair and a high-pitched voice calling on Americans to do better for those less fortunate.

It’s been 52 years since his life was brutally cut short—yet he remains forever the age at which he died: 42. Born in 1925, he would turn 95 on November 20 if he were alive today.

And he exuded an idealism which seems totally out of place with today’s “I’ve-got-mine-so-screw-you” politics.

On March 16, 1968, from the Caucus Room of the Old Senate Office building, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy declared his candidacy for President of the United States. 

Eight years earlier, on January 2, 1960, his brother, Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy had announced his own candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination from the same place.

Ten months later, on November 8, that campaign had ended in victory with his election. And that victory, in turn, ended in bitter sorrow with his assassination two years, 10 months and two days later on November 22, 1963.

Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign would not last as long as his late brother’s. Nor would it end in the victory he and his supporters yearned for. 

Sen. Robert Kennedy Giving Speech During Campaign Stop | Robert ...

Robert F. Kennedy 

Eighty-two days later, he was dead—shot in the back of the head by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab furious at Kennedy’s avowed support for Israel.

For Kennedy, making up his mind to run for the Presidency was no easy task.

Since the assassination of his brother, millions of Americans had assumed—as his admirers or detractors—that he would one day become President.

For his admirers, there was an element of “the once and future king” about this young, intense man with tousled hair and a high-pitched voice.He—they believed—was the man who would somehow avenge his martyred brother by restoring “Camelot” and returning youth, energy and idealism to the White House.

A playwright—Barbara Garson—had even written a 1967 satire depicting then-President Lyndon B. Johnson as the MacBeth-like murderer of John Ken O-Dunc. In the end, he was confronted and killed by Robert Ken O’Dunc.

Barbara Garson - Mac Bird by Barbara Garson (2 Lp Box Set w ...

His detractors saw him as a ruthless upstart who wanted to foist too-liberal policies on the United States. They distrusted his sympathy for the downtrodden—especially blacks and Hispanics. Worse, they saw the Kennedy family as trying to found a dynasty of Presidents that could last until the mid-1980s.

But the real Robert Kennedy was long torn between running against Johnson—whom he had long personally loathed—and letting someone else do so.

Kennedy’s hatred of Johnson—and his irrational belief that LBJ was somehow responsible for his brother’s death—was well-known. And Kennedy feared that if he ran against Johnson, his many enemies would charge he was doing so out of personal animosity. 

And there was another reason: Johnson, who had won the Presidency in a landslide in 1964, was certain to seek re-election in 1968. If Kennedy challenged him for the nomination, it might well split the party and result in the election of a Republican that November. And he—Kennedy—would be blamed for it.

Throughout 1966-7, Kennedy was urged to run against Johnson. Still, he dithered.

Then, on March 12, Minnesota United States Senator Eugene McCarthy entered the New Hampshire Democratic primary against Johnson—and won a surprising 42.2% of the vote to Johnson’s 49.4%.  Four days later, Robert Kennedy announced his own candidacy.

McCarthy’s supporters were outraged: Their candidate had dared to do what Kennedy had not—directly take on Johnson. And now that he had shown it could be done, the opportunistic Kennedy had jumped in. 

On March 18—two days after announcing his candidacy—Kennedy gave his first campaign speech at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. This was the heart of conservative country, and Kennedy didn’t know how his audience would accept many of his decidedly liberal proposals.

“Do you think they’ll boo him?” his wife, Ethel, asked a friend before the speech. “Will they hate him?” 

Arriving at the university, Kennedy ate breakfast at the student union—and told a group of university officials and student leaders: “Some of you may not like what you’re going to hear in a few minutes, but it’s what I believe; and if I’m elected President, it’s what I’m going to do.”

Anderson Hall (Manhattan, Kansas) - Wikipedia

Kansas State University

As events unfolded, he—and Ethel—had no reason to worry.

Kennedy had served as United States Attorney General from 1961 to 1964. Yet he had not limited himself to simply fighting organized crime and enforcing civil rights. He had aggressively urged his brother, the President, to take a hard line on fighting the Communist forces in Vietnam.

But now he did something almost no other politician had—or has—ever done: He publicly accepted responsibly for the disaster the war had become since 1965:

“Let me begin this discussion with a note both personal and public. I was involved in many of the early decisions on Vietnam, decisions that helped set us on our present path.

“It may be that the effort was doomed from the start; that it was never really possible to bring all the people of South Vietnam under the rule of the successive governments we supported.”

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