Robert-Kennedy-at-Vanderbilt

Bobby and Bernie: Kindred Spirits

The more I read and hear about Bernie Sanders, the more I am beginning to realize I have heard some of this before (not in a bad or critical way.

I am of the school of thought that can see more and more of Bobby Kennedy in Bernie Sanders, which is a good thing. I can’t believe I am the only one seeing this correlation. I must also say the fact that no one seems to either see it or address it is either lazy journalism (possibly) or the youth populating journalisn (likely) or it’s just the fact that media sees no value in it because it won’t attract eyeballs or revenue (definitely.

Now, we can argue the importance of the Kennedy’s until the cows come home.

  • We can argue that old man Kennedy was little more than an Irish thug and philandering asshole who would probably never win a father of the year award. We can argue the fact the NO ONE knows about the eldest daughter, Rose, that he had lobotomized who lived in virtual isolation and seclusion from the Kennedy clan (and who died in 2005).
  • We can argue that John F. Kennedy may not have been the greatest president ever (primarily for getting us involved in the quagmire of Vietnam) and was probably way more into women than politics (still doesn’t mean he should have been murdered).
  • We can argue about how Teddy Kennedy was a murderer (face facts, he was) and how he struggled to carry the weight of the three slain brothers (Joe, Jr, John and Robert) that came before him (he would find marginal redemption later in life with his sobriety.)

Look, I’ll probably agree more than not with the fact we have held the Kennedy’s to a much higher regard than they deserve (especially here in the Northeast…they’re almost deities out here). 

Except for Bobby. He was the real deal. He mattered.

The groundswell supporting Bernie Sanders proves that he still does.

For this 180 month election cycle (feels that way for sure), I have maintained that neither Donald J. Trump nor Bernie Sanders will win (and I still maintain that.) I say that not from a place of cynicism, but from a modestly informed understanding of the system and that I can picture no set of circumstances that the true powers that be would let either Trump or Sanders win (admittedly, that presumption is rooted in cynicism.)

However, where Trump is carrying the soul of Hitler and possibly every other xenophobic demagogue since…well, ever, Bernie Sanders is carrying the spirit of Bobby Kennedy and what it really means to be a Democrat (Hillary is a 1984 Republican in Democrat colors…which is still infinitely better than Trump.)

If you examine any of Bobby Kennedy’s speeches from his 1968 campaign (and a little before) you might notice that he references situations we are still battling (racism, education, the poor, jobs, etc.) While many would lead us to believe that progress has been made in 50 years (and it has), I would argue that some of our core troubles still remain.

As we move closer to both conventions, I will post more speeches from Bobby Kennedy because even though they are almost 50 years old, they are still relevant (I’m not sure if that is good or bad.)

While I had the intention of recording them I found that when I did, it felt as though I was doing a disservice to the words (and no, I did not do a Boston accent, I tried to give the emphasis to the words.) I just couldn’t capture the essence of the speeches. Furthermore, the words are actually more powerful read and it also allows the reader to pull from it what they feel is important. 

For me, there is still real gravitas to many of Bobby Kennedy’s speeches. 

I can’t say for certain the world would be different today had Bobby Kennedy been elected, but I believe he would have been elected and I believe it would be much different today.

But he didn’t

The following excerpt is from a speech Robert Kennedy gave to Vanderbilt University on March 21, 1968. 

“When we are told to forgo all dissent and division, we must ask: Who is it that is truly dividing the country? It is not those who call for change; it is those who make present policy who divide our country; those who bear the responsibility for our present course; those who have removed themselves from the American tradition, from the enduring and generous impulses that are the soul of the nation…

Those who now call for an end to dissent, moreover, seem not to understand what this country is all about. For debate and dissent are the very heart of the American proves.

For debate is all we have to prevent past errors from leading us down the road to disaster. How else is error to be corrected, if not by the informed reason of dissent?

A second purpose of debate is to give voice and recognition to those without the power to be heard. There are millions of Americans living in hidden places, whose faces and names we never know. Ut I have seen children starving in Mississippi, idling their lives away in the ghetto, living without hope or future amid the despair on Indian reservations, with no jobs and little hope. I have seen proud men in the hills of Appalachia, who wish only to work in dignity – but the mines are closed, and the jobs are gone and no one, neither industry or labor or government, has cared enough to help. Those conditions will change, those children will live, only if we dissent. So I dissent, and I know you do too.

A third reason for dissent is not because it is comforting, but because it is not – because it sharply reminds us of our basic ideals and true purpose. Only broad and fundamental dissent will allow us to confront – not only material poverty – but the poverty of satisfaction that afflicts us all.

So if we are uneasy about our country today, perhaps it is because we are truer to our principles than we realize, because we know that our happiness will come not from goods we have, but from the good we do together…

We say with Camus: ‘I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.’…

I urge you to learn the harsh facts that lurk behind the mask of official illusion with which we have concealed our true circumstances, even from ourselves. Our country is in danger: Not just from foreign enemies; but above all, from our own misguided policies, and what they can do to this country. There is a contest, not for the rule of America, but for the heart of America. We are going to decide what this country will stand for , and what kind of people we are. So I ask for your help, in the cities and homes, of this state, in the towns and farms, contributing your concern and action, warning of the danger of what we are doing, and the promise of what we can do. I ask you as tens of thousands of men and women are doing all over this land, to organize yourselves, and then go forth and work for new policies – work to change our direction – and thus restore our place at the point of moral leadership, in our country, in our hearts and all around the world.”

You can view excerpts from the entire speech here on the Vanderbilt University website. It’s powerful stuff.