‘I Do’ on the Day Bobby Died

The family of Robert Kennedy, reminded this spring that it’s been 40 years since they lost him, heard May 23rd that his tragic death had been diminished into a talking point in another senator’s crass campaign rhetoric. [Sioux Falls Argus-Leader transcript]

In 1968, having won California, Senator Kennedy’s life and his nation were struck, turning joyful hope into instant emotional chaos: [RFK assassination, live audio]

The following day, June 6, I had awakened on my parents’ couch to the sound of a news report from KMOX radio on Dad’s breakfast table, “Senator Robert F. Kennedy died at 1:44 A.M. today.” [New York Times] Mary Ann Templeton and I were to be married that afternoon, at 3:30.

Just weeks earlier, on March 18, he had spoken in Manhattan, Kansas, at the state university, of another war in another time, with words that echo in Barack Obama today:

“For it is long past time to ask: what is this war doing to us? Of course it is costing us money — fully one-forth of our federal budget — but that is the smallest price we pay. The cost is in our young men, the tens of thousands of their lives cut off forever. The cost is in our world position — in neutrals and allies alike, every day more baffled by and estranged from a policy they cannot understand.” [PBS American Experience]

Speaking in Fayetteville, North Carolina, nearly 40 years later to the day, on March 19, 2008, Obama evoked the message of the fallen Senator:

“This war has now lasted longer than World War I, World War II, or the Civil War. Nearly four thousand Americans have given their lives. Thousands more have been wounded. Even under the best case scenarios, this war will cost American taxpayers well over a trillion dollars. And where are we for all of this sacrifice? We are less safe and less able to shape events abroad. We are divided at home, and our alliances around the world have been strained. The threats of a new century have roiled the waters of peace and stability, and yet America remains anchored in Iraq.” [Time Magazine]

While Bobby’s death jolted many of us into political awareness, it also seemed to snuff out the dream for a better nation and world that he, his older brother and Martin Luther King — all gone in an instant — had held out in promise.

With dashed hopes, starting with Watts and culminating with the riots after Dr. King’s assassination [Atlanta Journal-Constitution], we watched our country morph into Nightly News maps with bonfire icons displayed on what seemed a dozen cities per night, a series of ‘long, hot summers’ [Time Magazine], turmoil that Kennedy and King had hoped to stop. [YouTube]

Why are we moved now, in this year, when idealistic former 22 year-olds, having turned into 62 year-old cynics, are grasping again for hope? Because we, finally, have before us a person, who holds within his and our grasp, the promise of a renewed dream.

As Caroline Kennedy, our only direct link to the Camelot of JFK, said in her January 27 endorsement, “Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.”

She spoke for so many of us who had watched in disbelief as her father was carried to his grave [] , “I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.”
[New York Times]

While our memories are filled with sadness, tinged with the news of Senator Edward Kennedy’s illness [Reuters] , we listen each day and read each day and hope each day that Bobby’s smashed vision YouTube, John’s call to service [Kennedy Inaugural] and Martin’s eloquent dream ["I Have a Dream"] now stand before us in the form of Barack Obama.

And, God willing, we will see a new America emerge next January 20.

He sums it up, when the Senator says, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” [YouTube] , while we believe “He is the one we’ve been waiting for.” [YouTube]

We have the opportunity, this once in a generation opportunity, and we can’t afford to let him slip away. Not for your sake, and, 40 years later, not for my bride’s sake, not for our four daughters’ sake, not for our two grandsons’ sake, not for our nation’s sake.

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Let’s make it happen.

Let’s get to work.

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