Forty years ago today on June 5, 1968, Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Kennedy had just finished giving his victory speech for the California Democratic primary, which had ended a few hours before. Kennedy died early the next day on June 6th.
Bobby had electrified the nation’s young people with his message of hope that working together people could solve the many problems facing the nation in those days. Not unlike a certain other young politician, Barack Obama, who is energizing the young people of today’s America into believing in hope and that “yes we can” solve the problems of today.
With Kennedy’s death coming so close after those of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his own brother, President John F. Kennedy, hope seemed to disappear from America for generations. Viet Nam, Watergate, corporate greed, social injustices, economic doldrums, and a needless (in my opinion, anyway) Iraq War have made cynics out of too many of us. For many Americans and for many nations around the world, America is no longer the “last best hope on Earth” that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed.
Senator Robert F. Kennedy was eulogized by his brother, Senator Edward Kennedy, in a brilliant speech, closing by saying: “My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”
For those ideals, Bobby and his fellow liberals were (and are) pilloried by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, George W. Bush, and Senator John McCain, who represent the worst of American politics. They stand for the politics of greed, divisiveness, and hate, where a politician can be branded “unpatriotic” if he or she doesn’t wear an American flag lapel pin or simply forgets to hold his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance.
This country of ours still needs the hopes and dreams that Bobby Kennedy stood for. We need someone who will see wrong and try to right it, see suffering and try to heal it, and see war and try to stop it. I think all of us, liberal and conservative, can reach agreement about those points, at least. We’ll never know what our country would be like today had Bobby lived. Would he have been elected president? Would our government be once again “government of the people, by the people, for the people”?
We’ll never know. And that, to me, is the greatest tragedy resulting from Bobby Kennedy’s death.