Friday, June 06, 2008

40 years ago and now

I'm increasingly intrigued by the parallels between 1968 and today as commentators write about Barack Obama and Bobby Kennedy in the same breath. Something is going on here:

Tom Hayden, an icon of 1968, writes in Huffington Post (as do most of the following): Bobby and Barack.
There are vast differences between Bobby Kennedy and Barack Obama, owing to circumstance, though both have followed hero's journeys of the classic sort. Kennedy was shaped by his brother's murder and the climate of his times, which drove all but the most robotic towards alienation. Barack is a product of globalization, immigration, even slavery, but nonetheless a privileged inheritor of the movements for which Bobby Kennedy stood.
...My hopes for Robert Kennedy might have been dashed by his subsequent policies if he had lived to be president, but I don't think so. The best evidence is the progressive course consistently pursued by those closest to him, Ethel and Ted Kennedy, to this day. It is hard to imagine him abandoning all those poor people, fervent anti-war activists, and early environmentalists who swarmed his rallies -- and who, like the farmworkers, carried him to victory on the ground in California.

RJ Eskow writes, Barack and Bobby: Compare and Contrast:
I've said this before: Had Bobby Kennedy not run for President, I wouldn't be writing these words right now. My fascination with politics is the direct result of what he made seem possible, from the symbolic to the soulful -- from his promise to make "This Land Is Your Land" the national anthem, to his tears for the Appalachian poor. I see Barack Obama having the same impact on young kids today.

And Robert S. McElvaine carries it much further, with America's 40 Years War at an End.
The charge of "elitism" is one that Republicans have heaved at Democratic candidates to great advantage since the Sixties. Indeed, the Republican Party has been running as the anti-Sixties party for four decades now. That has been the main casus belli in America's Forty Years War.
...Beginning in 1968, Nixon was the commander-in-chief of the army that launched the Forty Years War. A young Patrick J. Buchanan was its chief strategist. They set out quite consciously to divide the country, to launch a civil war that would be politically advantageous to their side. As Buchanan infamously put it in a 1971 memo to Nixon, his strategy was to cut "the country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half."

And there's much more. Now we're getting somewhere.

Joel Achenbach posted a bit about what Bobby Kennedy meant to America, and attracted a great gathering of commenters. So many of them wrote that it was before their time and they don't see what the fuss about Bobby was about: "just another Kennedy". One older commenter made it a point to describe to them the transition we were going through in 1968 and how RFK personified it:
So the world had pretty much divided itself up as those who were changing (whether they liked it or not) versus those who weren't (our parents, LBJ, Ed Sullivan). And so when we saw RFK being thrust by fate into the same turbulent waters we were all struggling in, there was no choice but to identify with him. It had nothing to do with issues.
...yes, when RFK finally stood up, (too late, some of you say, but yes, too late, like many others of us, but we stood up, too), then *that's* the guy you identify with, not some ivory-tower poet like McCarthy.
And then there's the day King got assassinated, and Bobby goes into Indianapolis, and gives that speech. And that's the night he becomes the guy we would follow into the Gates of Hell. That's the night that has nothing whatsoever to do with politics or issues. And I can understand how, if you weren't there to see it, you can never understand it. And that's OK.

I was not a Kennedy supporter that year, or at least wasn't sure about his candidacy. I liked McCarthy for standing up early. I liked McGovern when he came in. But Bobby had a lot of baggage from his support of Joe McCarthy and his anti-union activites, and I hated it when he came in to New York and took the senate seat from the liberal Republican senator, Ken Keating, from my part of the state.

But I admired how he was continuing to change, and wholeheartedly going after social injustice, poverty, and racism. He embodied the Catholic principles I admired, like the Berrigans. His speeches could stir your heart, and his love for his children -- and all children -- was moving. His death took away a great fighter for what is good in America.

(Oh, and one more thing, from Tom Hayden's essay:
Those who denounce Obama -- and the possibilities of all electoral politics- - should ponder the effectiveness of sitting judgmentally on the sidelines while an Unexpected Future arrives through the sheer will of a new generation.



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