On the day after Thanksgiving my wife and I went to see “Bobby”. While it is our tradition to go to the movies on Thanksgiving and Christmas, I couldn’t bear the idea of watching something so emotionally draining on the same day I had been so overwhelmed by the closeness and warmth of family. I am glad that we waited. While I was less than impressed with the “overall” of the movie, the emotions of the times were captured via the well-placed clips of RFK on the campaign trail and, especially, his speeches that so moved so many to hope and to act. The climax of the film, although knowingly anticipated by the “boomers” who made up the bulk of the audience, brought that same familiar lump in the throat and the twin urges to cry and strike out.
This morning (Saturday), during my regular reading of the blogs, I read this from Sirota, ” I just returned from seeing the new movie “Bobby” about RFK. It was a very rich, textured movie, and one that left me with an incredibly empty feeling. I wasn’t around back then, but from what I can tell as an amateur student of history and political junkie is that, at least at the end of his life, RFK managed to inspire people; to make them feel like the day-to-day issues they faced were finally being confronted by the political Establishment; and to let them know that politics could be an arena where citizens - regular citizens - could be part of something larger than themselves. He did this by using the celebrity power that came with his family name to shine a bright light on the taboos the Establishment back then and now would rather sweep under the rug: war and economic inequality.” Sirota’s next thought, and his glaring omission, are what compelled me to post today. ” What brings me down about the movie is not only that RFK was killed, but that there are so few leaders today who aspire to his model.”
After Bobby was assassinated and Nixon slithered his way in to the Whitehouse – with his racially divisive “Southern Strategy” – the activism that had been fueled in almost equal measure between anger and hope became almost exclusively anger. There were some who tried to pick up the mantle. Jesse Jackson and “Teddy” are quick to come to mind but Jesse has never been able to fully bridge the divide between black and white and Teddy had his own demons to tackle and, to so many, the Kennedy magic had become a curse. By the time Nixon was forced from office what had been a growing movement that pulled together Americans of all stripes – Black, Brown, White, Poor, Affluent, Educated, Illiterate, Young, and Old had become many separate groups working toward independent goals. After some years it was becoming difficult to discern between the two major political parties on a host of issues; including, some would argue, war and peace. Would we ever see another Bobby?
Sirota brings out the obvious with his nod to Bill Clinton. ”Yes, there have been flashes. Bill Clinton’s populist campaign in 1992 was a flash, even if Clinton’s behavior in office and historical revisionism in Washington has now converted it into the supposed triumph of microwaved Fortune Magazine talking points.” He goes on to produce a list of “could be’s”, ” …To hear Bobby Kennedy’s voice in this movie, you can hear traces of people like Sherrod Brown, Bernie Sanders, Russ Feingold, Brian Schweitzer, Byron Dorgan, Jim Webb, John Edwards and, of course, RFK’s brother Ted Kennedy - people who are at least willing to talk about the immorality of economic inequality and of Old…” But there is a glaring (and I would hope unintentional) omission in this list. I sometimes (actually more often than I care to admit) find it odd that people with whom I share much in ideology come to this place from such differing backgrounds. Unlike David Sirota, I was around back then – all of 15 years old, caught up in the angst of the day. Vietnam, race riots, poverty; all of these things were defining elements in my life and Bobby Kennedy – so much more than Jack – incited the activist in me. In early 2003, after standing on the sidelines and watching our country fall deeper and deeper into the grip of a government that looked more and more like a corporation that actually held its citizens in open contempt, with the drums of war again pounding louder and louder I heard a voice that was speaking my words and asking my questions. I was drawn to act like I had not been since those before days when I felt like what I did mattered. The voice kept asking, “What I want to know is…” And kept demanding, “You have the power!”
Howard Dean reminded us that his activism came from Bobby. Like RFK, Dean always told his supporters that they were responsible for making this country a better place; that people like him were only there to be a representative of the people. In August of 2003, thousands of people – young and old, rich and poor, white and non-white, stood for hours in Seattle’s Westlake Center to hear Howard Dean talk about a country where healthcare and education should be a right not a privilege. He spoke about a government that should be bringing people together, not dividing them over social issues or matters of conscience. Perhaps most importantly he spoke about a “50 State Strategy” whereby he would abandon a Democratic Party electoral scheme that would choose to discount almost 2/3 of the country for the sake of grasping and holding power. Howard Dean wanted to be president of all the United States – including the guys with the Confederate flags on their pick-up trucks. Even after his presidential campaign was politically assassinated by that same party, he has continued to fight to bring this country together in all 50 states. Many of the people that Sirota mentions might still be another Bobby, but I would argue that they might be only because Howard Dean has challenged them to be.
The next question you must answer however is will you participate, will you remain active, and will you continue to remain engaged? Many of the same issues that Bobby Kennedy addressed are still with us today. However, if we stand close enough to each other I believe we will find that Bobby is still here as well. If you think you can use a bit more inspiration, listen to Bobby’s words:
Chad (The Left) Shue