Thursday, June 5, 2008

When Hope Almost Died

Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. [Nit pick: Only because we don't really act as if a new day starts at midnight.] I don't remember the day (the news arrived the next day since he was shot around 3 AM on June 6 according to our clock) because my memory is of him and what he represented, and of the time I shook his hand.

Although the program on CBS tonight, featuring Jeff Greenfield's memories of RFK, brought back those memories, they really came flooding back to me two days ago during Obama's victory speech in Minnesota. It was too much like California in 1968, and one blond college kid reaching over the crowd to get his hand shaken was much too much like my experience a few months earlier.

But the hope you might feel, particularly if you are a youngish Obama supporter who is really involved in politics for the first time, is only half of what got dashed in 1968.

There is no draft today, keeping a half-million man army in a war zone for their 365 day tour-de-Vietnam. Although 50,000 deaths over the many years of that war are a fraction of the losses during the US Civil War and pale in comparison to what happened in Europe during WW I (comparable to the number of soldiers killed at Ypres in WW I whose remains were never identified), they dwarf our losses in Iraq and were quite an immediate threat to my generation. [And if you also knew, as I did, that we had once been Ho Chi Minh's ally against the Japanese and their French colonial collaborators, the pointlessness of the war made it even more disturbing. At the time, I was a long way away from being draft eligible.]

But there was much more. The civil rights movement was also in the middle of the fight to turn the 1965 law into something more than words that would be ignored like those in the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were ignored once Reconstruction ended. MLK had just been assassinated, and it was far from clear if the country would ever come close to where it is today - and it still has a long way to go today. Finally, there was the very real risk of nuclear annihilation. There were many times as many nuclear weapons pointed at the US than as are threatening us today, and we had come within one airstrike in Cuba or a nervous fighter pilot in Russia from going up in radioactive smoke in 1962.

RFK brought real hope. His speeches were more than rhetoric. He did not pander to his supporters, arguing against college draft deferments when speaking at a university. He opposed Johnson's plantation-style welfare programs that broke up families, programs that Nixon expanded along with expanding Medicare and other parts of the Great Society that benefited the middle class. That hope died 40 years ago today. And you can't tell me that this wasn't on the minds of the Secret Service detail in Minnesota on Tuesday night.

What came next led to forty years in the wilderness for the Democratic party. Chicago in August. Anti-war Democrats for Nixon, suckered into his secret plan for peace (best kept secret, since the plan was for more war) by foolishly viewing HHH as a pro-war puppet of LBJ. The same nonsense we hear today when pro-Hillary feminists shout racist attacks on Obama and argue for supporting a man who plans to ban abortion and thinks a wife's place is at home writing checks on her beer fortune to look pretty on his arm.

Obama is no RFK, but he offers a similar message to look ahead to the future while abandoning the politics that uses innuendo to fuel hate that can be used to get people to vote against their best interests and keep the oligarchy (now in the guise of preppie John Simpson McCain III) in power. Only time will tell if he will succeed where RFK failed.

Note added:
Campbell Brown wrote an essay about parallels between 1968 and 2008 on 6 June that was impressive only in how shallow it was. Wow, she spent a few hours looking over video footage and still photos of 40 years ago this weekend, June 1968. A few hours? No wonder the press is so easily bamboozled into working from selective leaks and talking points. She might have talked to someone who was alive then, or prehaps just imagined how she would have felt if she had woken up on Wednesday to learn that Sen. Obama had been assassinated as he left the arena in Minnesota and her son was old enough to be drafted to fight in Iraq.


The Thomas said...

So when did you shake RFK's hand, at Boys State when you were rooming with der Drug Czar? Or was it some other time?

Doctor Pion said...

Never roomed with the Drug Czar.

It was at the airport, when he came through town for (IIRC) a private fund raising event at a downtown hotel. Or it could have been to meet possible delegates there, since I don't think we had a primary in 1968. The arrival at the airport was the only public event.

Mom drove me out there. Hard to believe, eh?