Forty-eight years ago — June 4 1968 — Robert F. Kennedy won the Democratic Primary in California and was seemingly on his way to his party’s nomination for President. Then in the early morning moments of June 5, only a short time after he was declared the winner in California, he was shot by a (presumably) lone assassin; he died within 24 hours. The end result, some six months later, was the election of Richard Nixon as President, at which point commenced the American transition from her recent New Deal and Civil Rights accomplishments (aka Progressivism) to a society driven by little more than avarice and the quest for power (aka “Conservatism”).
On the campaign trail in the months prior to his assassination, RFK spoke out for old-style We the People values, even as he was strongly critical of those whose efforts were driven by greed, by the allure of power and wealth, by those who found war to be the ideal means to achieve those goals. RFK stood by and supported those millions who demanded an end to the atrocities in Vietnam; he stood by and supported the concept of prosperity for all via peace, not prosperity for the few via war.
RFK brilliantly summed-up the finer points that define the vast differences between the two nearly opposite schools of thought which are presumed to drive economic growth and, hence, prosperity. Here, courtesy of a recent Think Progress article is an audio recording of RFK’s words from a speech he gave at the University of Kansas on March 18, 1968, along with a transcription of those same words — a handy tool to enable further analysis and contemplation, to compare the conflicting philosophies which drive our current left-right political divide today, nearly five decades (along with much economic misery for most) later.
First, the audio:
Too much and for too long, we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product — if we judge the United States of America by that — that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.
It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.
It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.
It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
Are we, as a nation, unable to ever learn? To master and enable that which makes living worthwhile as opposed to that which does little more than enable acquisition of wealth and power? What will this year’s election bring us? Trump appears to know only greed, and if he should score on his quest for power of the State, it seems a fair bet that he will, without hesitation, begin immediately the task(s) of disparaging the health of our children, the quality of their education . . . the joy of their play . . . the beauty of our poetry . . . the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate . . . the integrity of our public officials . . . [of] our wit . . . our courage . . . our wisdom . . . our learning . . . our compassion . . . our devotion to our country, . . . everything . . . that . . . makes life worthwhile. Toss into the mix Trump’s predictably high rate of xenophobia, bigotry, misogyny, along with his already expressed tendency toward science denial, toward uninformed militarism, and suddenly the risk of planetary cataclysm soars, even as any hope for a better future vanishes.
As to whether the other principle option — Hillary Clinton — would be any better, about the only answer appears to be that at least she (hopefully) wouldn’t be as bad. At this point, it seems this country’s main hope — and major goal — should be that the Republican Party really DOES self-destruct thanks to Trump, and that the Democratic Party finally adopts the strongly progressive mission of the type that’s been advanced by Bernie Sanders. Maybe then the pathways leading to the diminishment and ultimate extinction of greed and the quest for power and wealth can be paved with all the gold that no longer will need to be hoarded.
I know. Dream on.
I’ve long felt that national failure is inevitable in this country, especially since we invariably seem to slam the door on each and every escape route leading away from those disastrous “Conservative” policies and programs which have been in place for who knows how many decades. It makes one wonder what things might be like today had Bobby Kennedy’s GNP/economic theses been put into place, starting with his presidency nearly fifty years ago. We’ll never know, of course; but we do KNOW — with certainty — the results of all those “Conservative” policies which have, unfortunately, been enacted during those five decades. And that knowledge is, without a doubt, the source of the economic sadness that has descended upon this country, as well as the source of the undercurrent of pessimism regarding our collective future.
Whereto from here?
As one who has watched the development of our collective dilemma(s) since well before RFK’s assassination, I have to wonder: might the following sonnet tell us everything about America . . . everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile?
Requiem, as dirge of sophistic love,
Exposes destinies which nations earn.
Quoth Hamlet: “conscience does make cowards of
Us all” – that is, till We the People learn,
Implicitly, that human Cowardice
Exudes contempt for Rationalities.
Meanwhile, mankind’s destiny – Avarice –
Appears in service to those Vanities
Most shallowed minds presume to be their right,
Enabling failure thus of Self, of State.
Repression blooms and quickly dims all light
Intrinsic to the heart of Freedom’s Fate –
Consumed – whilst words of Truth, now specious, Moan
And stand as lifeless slogans, etched in stone.
Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve
the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice,
he sends a tiny ripple of hope . . .”
(Robert F. Kennedy; Cape Town, S. Africa; 1966)