Bobby Kennedy Would Back Barack Obama

The nation recently noted the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy as he was ramping up his run for the democratic primary as presidential hopeful. We have been hearing how Barack Obama has many of the same messages and mannerisms of the Bobby Kennedy. In this article I will highlight some of the key ways in which Bobby Kennedy is reincarnated in the first term senator from Illinois. I will include many quotes and pix from Bobby.  I trust you will see many similarities between Bobby and Barack.

In this article I will pull together some of the best things that have been written about Bobby Kennedy.  I start with a tribute given 2.5 years ago by Barack Obama.  Then you will find some great quotes directly from Bobby Kennedy.  Then I highlight some other cool stuff for you to learn about why this coming election is so important – especially for the young people.  Like Bobby was to me and many other boomers, Barack is the future for our young people.  If Bobby were alive it is no doubt that he would have joined his brother and other family members in formally endorsing our next president.

Barack Obama delivered the following remarks at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Ceremony and commemoration of Robert F. Kennedy’s 80th birthday.  November 16, 2005.  Washington, DC.

I knew him only as an icon. In that sense, it is a distance I share with most of the people who now work in this Capitol – many of whom were not even born when Bobby Kennedy died. But what’s interesting is that if you go throughout the offices in the Capitol, everywhere you’ll find photographs of Kennedy, or collections of his speeches, or some other memento of his life.

Why is this? Why is it that this man who was never President, who was our Attorney General for only three years, who was New York’s junior Senator for just three and a half, still calls to us today? Still inspires our debate with his words, animates our politics with his ideas, and calls us to make gentle the life of a world that’s too often coarse and unforgiving?

Obviously, much has to do with charisma and eloquence – that unique ability, rare for most but common among Kennedys, to sum up the hopes and dreams of the most diverse nation on Earth with a simple phrase or sentence; to inspire even the most apathetic observers of American life.

Part of it is his youth – both the time of life and the state of mind that dared us to hope that even after John was killed; even after we lost King; there would come a younger, energetic Kennedy who could make us believe again.  But beyond these qualities, there’s something more. …

Somewhere, there have also always been people who believe that this isn’t the way it was supposed to be – that things should be different in America. People who believe that while evil and suffering will always exist, this is a country that has been fueled by small miracles and boundless dreams – a place where we’re not afraid to face down the greatest challenges in pursuit of the greater good; a place where, against all odds, we overcome. Bobby Kennedy was one of these people. …

Rather, the idealism of Robert Kennedy – the unfinished legacy that calls us still – is a fundamental belief in the continued perfection of American ideals.

It’s a belief that says if this nation was truly founded on the principles of freedom and equality, it could not sit idly by while millions were shackled because of the color of their skin. That if we are to shine as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world, we must be respected not just for the might of our military, but for the reach of our ideals. That if this is a land where destiny is not determined by birth or circumstance, we have a duty to ensure that the child of a millionaire and the child of a welfare mom have the same chance in life. That if out of many, we are truly one, then we must not limit ourselves to the pursuit of selfish gain, but that which will help all Americans rise together.

We have not always lived up to these ideals and we may fail again in the future, but this legacy calls on us to try. And the reason it does – the reason we still hear the echo of not only Bobby’s words, but John’s and King’s and Roosevelt’s and Lincoln’s before him – is because they stand in such stark contrast to the place in which we find ourselves today. …

If he were here today, I think it would be hard to place Robert F. Kennedy into any of the categories that so often constrain us politically. He was a fervent anti-communist but knew diplomacy was our way out of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He sought to wage the war on poverty but with local partnerships and community activism. He was at once both hard-headed and big-hearted.

And yet, his was not a centrism in the sense of finding a middle road or a certain point on the ideological spectrum. His was a politics that, at its heart, was deeply moral – based on the notion that in this world, there is right and there is wrong, and it’s our job to organize our laws and our lives around recognizing the difference. …

Bobby Kennedy spent his life making sure that we knew – not only to wake us from indifference and face us with the darkness we let slip into our own backyard, but to bring us the good news that we have it within our power to change all this; to write our own destiny. Because we are a people of hope. Because we are Americans.

This is the good news we still hear all these years later – the message that still points us down the road that Bobby Kennedy never finished traveling. It’s a road I hope our politics and our country begin to take in the months and years to come.

Quotes from Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy:

  • All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don’t. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.
  • Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.
  • I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.
  • If any man claims the Negro should be content… let him say he would willingly change the color of his skin and go to live in the Negro section of a large city. Then and only then has he a right to such a claim.
  • It is not enough to understand, or to see clearly. The future will be shaped in the arena of human activity, by those willing to commit their minds and their bodies to the task.
  • One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time.
  • Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.
  • Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.
  • There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

Excerpt from The Last Good Campaign by Thurston Clarke June 2008

This is from a cover story in Vanity Fare (same one with Miley Cyrus).  Anyhow, they included part of a new book entitled “The Last Good Campaign.”  I was most interested in what their article said about Bobby’s values; as well as his amazing appeal to young people.  He ran as an Anti-war candidate and cared a lot about poverty.  Sounds a Lot like Barack.  BTW – MY Further Cuts are indicated by the ellipsis (three dots) …

Kennedy was still mourning his brother and endeavoring to live for him when he ran for the U.S. Senate from New York in the autumn of 1964, telling a friend that he wanted to ensure that the hopes J.F.K. had kindled around the world would not die, and saying in his victory statement that he had won “an overwhelming mandate to continue the policies” of President Kennedy. And at first it appeared that his 1968 presidential campaign—challenging his brother’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, for the Democratic Party’s nomination—would be another homage to J.F.K.

Bobby announced his candidacy on March 16 in the caucus room of the Old Senate Office Building, the room that his brother had used for the same purpose. He stood in the same spot and began with the same sentence: “I am announcing today my candidacy for the presidency of the United States.” After saying that he was running to “close the gaps that now exist between black and white, between rich and poor, between young and old,” he concluded with a passage that made him sound like his brother, perhaps because it had been contributed in part by Ted Sorensen, who had been his brother’s speechwriter: “I do not lightly dismiss the dangers and the difficulties of challenging an incumbent President. But these are not ordinary times and this is not an ordinary election. At stake is not simply the leadership of our party and even our country. It is our right to the moral leadership of this planet.” …

In 1968, America was a wounded nation. The wounds were moral ones; the Vietnam War and three summers of inner-city riots had inflicted them on the national soul, challenging Americans’ belief that they were a uniquely noble and honorable people. Americans saw news footage from South Vietnam, such as the 1965 film of U.S. Marines setting fire to thatched huts in the village of Cam Ne with cigarette lighters and flamethrowers, and realized that they were capable of committing atrocities once considered the province of their enemies. They saw federal troops patrolling the streets of American cities and asked themselves how this could be happening in their City upon a Hill.

Nevertheless, on the day that Kennedy announced his candidacy, it was by no means obvious that 1968 would become a watershed year. Most of the year’s momentous events would occur after Kennedy’s March 16 announcement, with many of the most shocking ones unfolding during his campaign. Had you told anyone in the Senate caucus room that morning that during the next 82 days President Johnson would decline to seek a second term, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy would both be assassinated, and America would suffer its worst racial disturbances since the Civil War, they might have believed that one or two of those things might happen, but not all, nor in such quick succession.

In fact, Kennedy needed only to reread his own words to be reminded that framing his opposition to the Vietnam War in moral terms while refusing to challenge Johnson for the nomination was a prima facie case of moral cowardice. In a new introduction to Profiles in Courage, written just weeks after his brother’s death, he had declared that “President Kennedy was fond of quoting Dante that ‘the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in a time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.’ ” In the postscript to his 1967 book, To Seek a Newer World, Kennedy had called it “thoughtless folly” to attempt “to solve problems and take action unguided by ultimate moral aims and values,” adding that “only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” How could someone who had written these words not run against Johnson?

The consensus of Kennedy’s friends and advisers is that he had decided to enter the race in mid- to late February or early March. Edwin Guthman, who had served as his press officer in the Justice Department, learned that he had decided to run when Kennedy called to ask whether Guthman thought he should accept an invitation to fly to Delano, California, on March 10 and join Cesar Chavez, the head of the farmworkers’ union, in ending Chavez’s 25-day fast affirming his commitment to nonviolence.

After discussing whether Kennedy should go, Guthman asked if he was planning to run. “I think I have to,” he replied. “If I don’t, I’ll have to support Gene McCarthy, and I can’t do it in good conscience. A lot of people are still against it. The Democratic Senators who are up for election will be upset, but Tet has changed everything, and if I don’t go now and make an effort in the primaries, I think I’ll be nothing.”  Guthman pointed out that supporting Chavez might cost him the support of some voters in the California primary. “I know,” Kennedy replied, “but I like Cesar.” …

The only kind of sense that Kennedy’s decision made was moral sense. By charging that the tactics being employed by the Johnson administration in Vietnam were immoral, and that the war had inflicted grave wounds on the national soul, he had made it impossible for himself to support Johnson while maintaining his honor. Forced to choose, Kennedy chose honor.

The morning after he announced his candidacy Kennedy appeared on Meet the Press and was asked if he would support President Johnson if Johnson became the nominee. Instead of dodging the question or finessing it by saying that of course he planned on winning the nomination, he gave an answer certain to anger Democratic Party bosses, who controlled the nomination process and considered loyalty a virtue trumping all others. If Johnson continued pursuing the same policies, Kennedy said, then he would have “grave reservations” about supporting him. “I’m loyal to the Democratic Party,” he added, “but I feel stronger about the United States and mankind generally.” …

Most of Kennedy’s campaign flights would be jolly affairs marked by singing, drinking, and practical jokes. But his first one was tense, and the droning engines, night sky, and haze of cigarette smoke—along with the suspicion among some in the Kennedy entourage that they were embarking on an enterprise that might end very badly—evoked a squad of paratroopers preparing to jump into a countryside of uncertain loyalties, where they might be hailed as liberators or shot before hitting the ground. …

Anyone walking up the aisle of a Robert Kennedy flight would have seen rows of seats occupied by people whom author Victor Navasky in his book Kennedy Justice called Honorary Kennedys—men and women linked to the Kennedy family through friendship, marriage, work, and political alliances, and willing to put their careers and private lives on hold while they helped a Kennedy win an election. …. The Honorary Kennedys differed from the usual network of friends, former aides, and political advisers who join a presidential campaign in that many had worked only in Kennedy campaigns and their loyalty to the Kennedy family was more personal than ideological.

During the flight to Kansas City, Kennedy told the Honorary Kennedys and reporters gathered in the aisle around his seat, “I didn’t want to run for President. But when [Johnson] made it clear the war would go on, and that nothing was going to change, I had no choice.” …

But while he was still on the stairs, the doors of the terminal flew open and more than a thousand people, led by a vanguard of young women screaming “Bobby!,” dashed across the tarmac. After they pinned him against the bottom of the stairway he laughed and, delighted by their enthusiasm, began, “We’re going to change the policy of the United States.” When he finished he told them they had just heard his first campaign speech, adding, “Now, let’s all clap.”  Reporters called it a turnout worthy of a general election, and evidence of a “subterranean longing for change,”

Kennedy ate a second breakfast at the student union, where he 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.” …

The field house was a hulking stone structure with exposed steel rafters and a dirt ring to accommodate livestock shows and rodeos. Because Kennedy attracted a record-setting crowd of 14,500, students stood in stairwells, sat cross-legged on the basketball court and under the press tables, and perched on the rafters and scoreboard, dangling their legs in space. Their signs said, bobby is groovy! and kiss me, bobby. Others said, gene for integrity and traitor!

The Kennedys walked onto the dais with Kansas State president James McCain, Governor and Mrs. Docking, and former governor Alf Landon. The students jumped up, cheering, stamping their feet, and scuffing up clouds of dust that dimmed the light and hung like smoke. They cheered because Kennedy was youthful and handsome, John Kennedy’s brother, and he reminded them of happier times.  …

As Kennedy began, his voice cracked, and those near the stage noticed his hands trembling and his right leg shaking.  After praising Landon’s distinguished career, he said, “I am also glad to come to the home state of another great Kansan, who wrote, ‘If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all their youthful vision and vigor then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come on college campuses, the better the world for tomorrow.’ ”  The audience quieted, and Landon and the dignitaries exchanged worried glances. Docking wore a quizzical “Where is he going with this?” expression.

Later that spring, after students at Columbia had occupied university offices and race riots had convulsed more than 100 American cities, no politician—perhaps not even Kennedy—would have uttered these words on a college campus. But by March 1968, students had already picketed military recruiting centers, marched on the Pentagon, and burned draft cards, making this a risky way for Kennedy to open his first campaign speech. Had there been talk radio and 24-hour news cycles, this sound bite might have destroyed his candidacy in a matter of days. …

He told the K.S.U. students that their country was “deep in a malaise of the spirit” and suffering from “a deep crisis of confidence”—the kinds of phrases that no politician has dared utter since President Carter was pilloried for speaking of a national “crisis of confidence” during his notorious “malaise speech,” in which he never used the word “malaise.” …

He framed his opposition to Vietnam in moral terms, telling them, “I am concerned—as I believe most Americans are concerned—that the course we are following at the present time is deeply wrong.… I am concerned—as I believe most Americans are concerned—that we are acting as if no other nation existed, against the judgment and desires of neutrals and our historic allies alike.” …

He urged his audience to consider “the young men that we have sent there; not just the killed, but those who have to kill; not just the maimed, but all those who must look upon the results of what they are forced and have to do,” and to consider “the price we pay in our own innermost lives, and in the spirit of this country.” This was why, he said, “war is not an enterprise lightly to be undertaken, nor prolonged one moment past its absolute necessity.” …

Hays Gorey, of Time, called the electricity between Kennedy and the K.S.U. students “real and rare” and said that “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.” …

Kennedy concluded by saying, “Our country is in danger: not just from foreign enemies; but above all, from our own misguided policies—and what they can do to the nation that Thomas Jefferson once said was the last, great hope of mankind. There is a contest on, not for the rule of America but for the heart of America. In these next eight months we are going to decide what this country will stand for—and what kind of men we are.”

He raised his fist in the air so it resembled the revolutionary symbol on posters hanging in student rooms that year, promised “a new America,” and the hall erupted in cheers and thunderous applause. …

“I saw them. I saw every face in the building,” Kennedy said, closing his eyes and shaking his head. “Did you ever see anything like it? You can hear the fabric ripping. If we don’t get out of this war, I don’t know what these young people are going to do It’s very dangerous.”  He exclaimed to others stopping by his seat, “I feel free! I feel like a man again!,” and told Jim Tolan, “You know, I didn’t like myself for what I was doing and saying before, saying I would support Johnson.”

One of Kennedy’s favorite authors was Ralph Waldo Emerson. According to journalist Warren Rogers, he had marked three passages in the copy of Emerson’s essays that he kept on his desk at home in Hickory Hill. One declared, “If the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him.” Kennedy was about to discover if Emerson was right.

Thurston Clarke is a writer and historian. This is from his new book The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America, by Henry Holt and Company, L.L.C.; © 2008.

More Quotes from Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy:

  • What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists, is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.
  • Ultimately, America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired.
  • A revolution is coming — a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough — But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.
  • At the heart of that Western freedom and democracy is the belief that the individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value, and all society, all groups, and states, exist for his benefit. Therefore the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal and the abiding practice of any Western society.
  • Our answer is the world’s hope; it is to rely on youth. The cruelties and the obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present which is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger which comes with even the most peaceful progress. This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.

  • The first element of this individual liberty is the freedom of speech: the right to express and communicate ideas, to set oneself apart from the dumb beasts of field and forest; to recall governments to their duties and obligations; above all, the right to affirm one’s membership and allegiance to the body politic — to society — to the men with whom we share our land, our heritage, and our children’s future.
  • The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present which is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger which comes with even the most peaceful progress.
  • Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.
  • Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. And everyone here will ultimately be judged — will ultimately judge himself — on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.
  • All great questions must be raised by great voices, and the greatest voice is the voice of the people – speaking out – in prose, or painting or poetry or music; speaking out – in homes and halls, streets and farms, courts and cafes – let that voice speak and the stillness you hear will be the gratitude of mankind.
  • Another great task is to confront the poverty of satisfaction–a lack of purpose and dignity–that afflicts us all. Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.
  • As long as men are hungry, and their children uneducated, and their crops destroyed by pestilence, the American Revolution will have a part to play. As long as men are not free — in their lives and in their opinions, their speech and their knowledge — that long will the American Revolution not be finished.
  • Each generation makes its own accounting to its children.

  • It is not enough to understand, or to see clearly. The future will be shaped in the arena of human activity, by those willing to commit their minds and their bodies to the task.
  • Men without hope, resigned to despair and oppression, do not make revolutions. It is when expectation replaces submission, when despair is touched with the awareness of possibility, that the forces of human desire and the passion for justice are unloosed.
  • On this generation of Americans falls the burden of proving to the world that we really mean it when we say all men are created free and are equal before the law. All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don’t. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.
  • One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time.
  • People are selfish, but they can also be compassionate and generous, and they care about the country. But not when they feel threatened. That’s why this is such a crucial time. We can go in either direction. But if we don’t make a choice soon, it will be too late to turn things around. I think people are willing to make the right choice. But they need leadership. They’re hungry for leadership.
  • Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.
  • That which unites us is, must be, stronger than that which divides us. We can concentrate on what unites us, and secure the future for all our children; or we can concentrate on what divides us, and fail our duty through argument and resentment and waste.

Categories: Activism - Occupy, Prez Obama, Visionaries | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Bobby Kennedy Would Back Barack Obama

  1. Amnah Khan

    Now, what do you have to say? Will Robert F. Kennedy have supported Barack Obama, or would he have known better not to since keeping in mind the actual core of the American establishment and its politics? I think, the answer is as clear as Bobby’s own purpose against war, poverty and inequality.

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