The Kennedy Legacy

Not just politics as usual

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"John Kennedy Jr made his own stage with George. From the start Kennedy, who had no prior experience in magazine publishing, had a clear-cut vision of a personality- based political magazine. “Political magazines should look like Mirabella,” he told the New York Times in 1996. “They should look like Elle. They should look like really inviting, accessible, exuberant youthful magazines.”

"John Kennedy Jr made his own stage with George. From the start Kennedy, who had no prior experience in magazine publishing, had a clear-cut vision of a personality- based political magazine. “Political magazines should look like Mirabella,” he told the New York Times in 1996. “They should look like Elle. They should look like really inviting, accessible, exuberant youthful magazines.”


Filed under JFK Jr John F. Kennedy Jr Kennedy

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Profiles in Courage in Our Time

By Jack Schlossberg, NYC resident, junior at Yale, Yale Herald staff, volunteer EMT, grandson of President John F. Kennedy.

Americans today are served by a political system that only rarely demonstrates a capacity to compromise for the greater good. The challenges our country faces demand action, yet all too often we encounter a political dialogue that affords no space for those less interested in self-promotion and petty posturing than in looking for common ground.

It is tempting to see the system as broken or to regard the possibility to change it as simply unrealistic. For hope and guidance, therefore, we are well served to look back and remember times when disagreement did not mean disengagement and our leaders put nation above party to provide solutions.

We need not travel to some time in the distant past when legislative battles occurred in candlelit rooms on the floor of the old Senate chamber.

Instead, we can remember 1990 and President George H. W. Bush to find an example of tremendous political courage.

That year the federal budget deficit, after having tripled over the previous decade, stood at $200 billion. Just two years earlier Americans had believed President Bush when he had promised them that there would be no new taxes. But, as is always true when acts of courage appear, a tough choice awaited.

America needed to address the budget deficit. It needed a leader with the courage to govern and the selflessness to forget the next political contest. The nation needed what President Bush gave us.

The 1990 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act established a “pay as you go” system for new entitlement programs and capped annual discretionary spending budgets. In exchange it raised the individual income tax, the top statutory tax rate, the payroll tax, and the rates of excise and fuel taxes, just to name a few.

To be sure, President Bush won no political points for the budget deal. Its passage enraged conservatives and was followed by a drop in his national approval rating. Bush, who enjoyed 80-percent approval at the start of his second year in office, knew the bill would make reelection an uphill battle, but he summoned the courage to govern responsibly at the expense of his own political future.

President Bush acted on a national stage while the world watched, but the capacity for courage is not limited to our nation’s highest leaders, or to the 20th century.

In 2011 the debate for immigration reform reached Uvalda, Ga., a town with 592 residents, when Mayor Paul Bridges, a Republican, joined a federal lawsuit to stop the implementation of Georgia’s Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011.

Breaking with his party and enraging many of his constituents, Mayor Bridges challenged the law, which outlawed housing and transportation of undocumented persons, limited access for those without legal immigration status to state-sponsored public facilities and services, and expanded state policing powers by authorizing demands for proof of citizenship or legal status from individuals stopped for traffic violations.

Bridges knew that the deportations that would come from the new law would devastate families — families he knew and had become close to. He knew that whenever he drove his undocumented friends to work or school or an appointment, he would be breaking the law. He knew that the Vidalia onion industry — the basis of Uvalda’s economy — would lose many of the workers crucial to its success. He also knew that in Uvalda he would stand alone in opposition to the law.

After publicly opposing the law, Mayor Bridges was vilified by many in his community, and he quickly became so unpopular a mayor that he had no choice but to eliminate the possibility of running again for office in Uvalda.

To understand the broad significance and lasting impact of this small-town stand, we leave President John F. Kennedy with the final word:

The true democracy, living and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people — faith that the people will not simply elect men who will represent their views ably and faithfully, but also elect men who will exercise their conscientious judgment — faith that the people will not condemn those whose devotion to principle leads them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect honor, and ultimately recognize right.

George H. W. Bush and Paul Bridges will be honored with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on Sunday, May 4, 2014.

(Source: The Huffington Post)

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It’s not easy being a child of Camelot. To have your every move grist for publicity. Harder yet, to be bequeathed a legacy of great expectations

David Kennedy

Filed under Kennedy JFK David Kennedy

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I will try to live up to the high standard that my father set for all of us when he said the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.
Ted Kennedy Jr

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He is handsome, too, but not quite in a conventional Kennedy way. He has bright orange hair that sometimes curls into a forelock, blue-green eyes and pale freckles. He has been compared to Conan O’Brien (besides being a redhead, he’s also fairly tall), but looks more like a mash-up of Prince Harry, the “Hunger Games” actor Josh Hutcherson and a bird
Edith Zimmerman in The New York Times on congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III.

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Most people live their lives as if the end were always years away. They measure their days in love, laughter, accomplishment, and loss. There are moments of sunshine and storm. There are schedules, phone calls, careers, anxieties, joys, exotic trips, favorite foods, romance, shame, and hunger. A person can be defined by clothing, the smell of his breath, the way she combs her hair, the shape of his torso, or even the company she keeps. All over the world, children love their parents and yearn for love in return. They revel in the touch of parental hands on their faces. And even on the worst of days, each person has dreams about the future—dreams that sometimes come true. Such is life. Yet life can end in less time than it takes to draw one breath.
Bill O’Reilley, Killing Kennedy

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Joe Kennedy kicks off re-election bid in Taunton

Freshman U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III kicked off his re-election campaign yesterday in front of a roaring crowd of supporters in Taunton, sticking to his famous family’s political script of championing the poor but also lamenting congressional gridlock.

Kennedy, whose famous bloodline enshrined him as a member of an American political dynasty, surprised no one at the Sandbar Grill with his announcement that he’s seeking a second term for the 4th Congressional District seat.

“I’m thrilled to announce to all of you that I’m running for re-election … I hope that doesn’t come as a big shock to anybody,” Kennedy said to cheers and laughs. “Every person, regardless of where you were born or where you’re from, deserves to make the most out of what they got here in this country.”

He touched on his backing of raising the minimum wage, passing comprehensive immigration laws, workforce development, protecting retirement security and extending unemployment benefits.

Kennedy, who as of now does not have a Republican challenger, bemoaned some of his colleagues placing politics over their country.

“Despite the lessons learned, despite the people that you meet, despite all that comes with being a member of Congress, there are times that have been extraordinarily frustrating,” he said. “You see that good policy is often in conflict, for some, with good politics.”

Betty Regan, 67, of Medway said she believes Kennedy puts the common man over special-interest money.

“He espoused the Democratic principles, which is very important,” she said. “He really is a people’s representative. He’s not a Koch brothers’ representative.”

After his speech, Kennedy told the Herald he’s trying to build bipartisan bridges, noting he has had dinners with Tea Party congressmen, and a manufacturing bill he sponsored also has dozens of Republican sponsors. He said his legacy name has helped rather than hindered him in Washington because of the bonds his political family has built over the years.

Both Kennedy and his wife are running the Boston Marathon — he’s raising money for The One Fund Boston, she’s raising money for Boston Medical Center. Kennedy said after last year’s bombings it’s especially important to put on his running shoes.

“No terrorist act is going to take away our city and what makes our state the place that it is,” he said.


Filed under Joe Kennedy Kennedy Joseph P. Kennedy III

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Guess who’s back in politics? The Kennedys

It wasn’t that long ago that one of the most famous families in American political history had no representation in the nation’s capital. Times have changed.

Caroline Kennedy, daughter of JFK, was sworn in as U.S. ambassador to Japan last fall. And Ted Kennedy’s Jr.’s candidacy follows that of Joe Kennedy III, grandson of late senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.), who ran for and won a congressional seat in 2012. Prior to that win, no Kennedys had been in major Washington office for the first time in more than six decades. 

In the future, more Kennedys might move into the political arena. As we noted in this space in 2010, there are a handful of others worth keeping an eye on in the coming years including Max Kennedy (son of RFK) and Anthony Shriver (JFK’s nephew and the son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver), to name just a couple. 

Mark your calendars for 2044: That’s when Edward Kennedy III (Ted Jr.’s son) plans to run for the U.S. Senate. Then 11, he announced his plans in 2009.

(Source: Washington Post)

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Teddy Jr: Finally Ready for the Family Business


By Mark Leibovich
The New York Times

In early December, Washington’s political class was in one of its episodic ventilations over who would fill the latest round of job openings. The intrigue of the moment involved Hillary Clinton’s replacement as secretary of state. Susan Rice, the U. S. ambassador to the United Nations and onetime front-runner, was taking a public battering, and the fallback candidate, Senator John Kerry, was looking more likely to get the job. This would in turn mean that another Massachusetts Senate seat would be up for grabs — the third election since the death of Ted Kennedy in 2009.

In the midst of all that, I was eating lunch at a private club near the White House at the invitation of Ted Kennedy Jr. As the namesake of the late senator, he was of course entitled under Massachusetts law to slide happily into any available political seat without so much as leaving the compound to drop off a ballot petition. There was only one slight problem with this: he lived in Connecticut, not Massachusetts. But Kennedys have a way of surmounting pesky barriers like these, and conjecture about Kerry’s seat, if it were to become open (which it has), was on the table.

Ted Jr., as he is known, has eager blue eyes and windswept Kennedy hair. He is friendly and solicitous, but his efforts at ingratiating himself come off more self-taught than natural, a bit too eager, as when, weeks earlier, he marveled at how really great it was to see me. At one point he asked if I had ever been to the family home on Cape Cod. When I said no, he insisted, “Oh, you have to come down sometime.” We had never met before.


He speaks in the patrician New England accent and nasal-honking intonations that conjure his father. He kept saying things like “I am entering a new phase of my life” and “I come from a family of public servants,” and it was perfectly clear what Ted Jr. had called me here to discuss. After a lifetime of entreaties, many from his father, the oldest son of Edward M. Kennedy was now, at 51, prepared to join the family business. In the musty parlance of his heritage, he was being “called to service.”

For someone so incubated in the heat of public life, Kennedy betrayed a surprising transparency, or maybe naïveté, in explaining to me how he had been preparing for this next phase. “I’ve been cultivating all sorts of friendships and relationships with people who can be helpful,” he said. And then he made clear how I came in. He also kept mentioning to me that “my father and brother had always spoken highly of you,” which carried a whiff of declaring me “reliable” within the family. (Was I, too, being called to service?) What he envisioned, Ted Jr. said, was “a foundational story” being written about him. “What’s this guy like?” he asked. “What’s he thinking?”

This was somewhat unusual. When someone decides to “come out” as a politician, it is typically in connection with a specific job — as in, “I will be running for such-and-such.” They don’t generally say, “I’m being called to service, please write a foundational story about me.” My immediate question involved exactly what service Ted Jr. was being called to. And where? Would it be in Massachusetts, where he purchased the former home of his Uncle Jack, behind the main family compound in Hyannis Port? Or in Connecticut, where he lives in the New Haven suburb of Branford with his wife, Kiki, a Yale psychiatrist, and teenage son and daughter (their oldest daughter is a freshman at Wesleyan)? There was also the possibility of an executive appointment from a president who regarded his father as a crucial Senate mentor and kingmaker. Ted Jr. wanted me to know that he was open to that.

Whatever the case, there was some urgency that the foundational story be done soon, presumably to help get his name “in play” for the imminent job openings. We were joined at the table by Dick Keil, a former White House reporter for Bloomberg News who now works for a media consulting company called Purple Strategies, which was co-founded by Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist/TV pundit/friend of Ted Jr.’s from the old days, when he worked on Ted Sr.’s 1980 presidential campaign. Keil, McMahon and Ben Binswanger, another friend, who attended Wesleyan with Ted Jr. and later worked for Senator Kennedy, were all helping guide the soon-to-be-candidate-for-something through the delicate paces of his “rollout.” Ted Jr.’s brother, Patrick, a former congressman from Rhode Island who now lives in New Jersey, was also part of the small advisory team, as was Kiki.

In addition to the whats, whens and wheres, there was also the matter of who — as in: Who did Ted Jr. think he was? As we talked over lunch about the rollout, wherever it may be rolling, I thought of a famous line inflicted on Ted Sr. during his 1962 Senate campaign by his Democratic primary challenger, Edward J. McCormack Jr. McCormack told his 30-year-old opponent — the brother of the sitting president — that he would have no chance in that race if his name were Edward Moore instead of Edward Moore Kennedy. When I started to recall that line, Ted Jr. interjected with the exact quote: “If it was Edward Moore,” he said, “your candidacy would be a joke.”

In fairness, Ted Jr. is more than two decades older and far more experienced than his father was in 1962. He has been a longtime advocate for the disabled — having lost part of his right leg to bone cancer at age 12 — and his Manhattan-based management-consulting firm, the Marwood Group, employs 130 people. But the Edward Moore line resonates within the family. Patrick Kennedy — who was elected to the Rhode Island Legislature at 21 and the U.S. House of Representatives at 27, and who himself once dismissed the U.S. Senate campaign of Scott Brown in Massachusetts as “a joke” — told me that he entered politics “as a Kennedy” but was “still looking for my identity.” His brother, on the other hand, “knows where his true compass is,” Patrick assured me, deploying another pet family term — “true compass” — that happened to be the title of their father’s memoir.


Entire touch-football rosters could be filled with Kennedys who could never have been elected at their tender ages without their last names. In November, Ted’s 32-year-old cousin, Joseph Kennedy III — the son of a former U.S. representative, Joseph Kennedy II — became the latest pledge when he won the congressional seat left by Barney Frank, who retired. Even Ted Jr.’s son, Edward Kennedy III, has announced his intention to run for U.S. senator from Massachusetts someday. He was, at the time of his announcement, 11.

“There is this question with every member of my family,” Patrick Kennedy said. “How do we fit into this amazing legacy that we have been given by dint of our birth?” That is not a sentence most people utter. But his point was that simply running for an office because it is available is the family default option, and it’s not necessarily the best one.

Patrick did not seek re-election in 2010 and now devotes much of his life to promoting treatment and research for twin causes, mental illness and brain injuries. He married, moved to New Jersey and has two children. He has sad green eyes, a big pillow of red hair and the gawky bearing of an overgrown boy. But he also has the weary voice of someone who could be 65.

Patrick told me he has no regrets about his career choices, but his own life proves his original point: that the family reflex to run early is not for everyone. He has battled depression and alcohol and drug addictions for years, and he admits that the United States Congress was not the best place to wrestle these goblins. “When you grow up in my family, being somebody meant having power, having status,” Patrick told me back in 2006, when I was reporting an article for The Times not long after police found him disoriented, having crashed his car into a barrier near the Capitol at 2:45 a.m. “The compensations you got were all material and superficial,” he said. “I’ve come to realize, in the last few months, that that life made me feel all alone.” After the article ran, Patrick told me his father was furious at him for unburdening himself publicly. “Save that stuff for your shrink, not a reporter,” Senator Kennedy said to him.

Ted Jr. is less the unburdening type. He has granted few interviews and he seemed nervous when we talked, or perhaps a bit suffocated by Keil, who was always with us. Keil, whom I first met back in his journalism days, is a friendly and earnest operator who, like many in Washington, is always working. (I ran into him once at the supermarket and teased him about the work Purple Strategies was doing to help BP “reposition” its image after the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Without missing a beat, Keil unleashed his own gusher, calling BP the “the greatest corporate turnaround story in history” before moving on to the deli counter.) He sat in on all three of my meetings with Ted Jr., monitored a subsequent phone call and also stayed close by during my meeting with Patrick. He made backup recordings of all of our conversations, which is not unusual for public-relations people to do, but typically happens with high-level subjects, not with someone who has never run for office and wasn’t really running for anything now. The aggressive “management” of the story conveyed an impression of both loftiness and hand-holding — or, at worst, of a Not Ready for Prime Time Kennedy being propped up by consultants.


All of that said, there’s something innately likable about Ted Jr. People who have known him over the years generally describe a solid, down-to-earth guy who is quite normal, given his royal lineage. And his instinct to become a fully formed human being before answering the “call to service” was admirable. His priority, by all accounts, has always been to raise a family and nurture them as unassumingly as possible (again, for a Kennedy). As he put it, “I pretty much spent half my life trying to resist other people’s timetables.” Later, when I asked him to elaborate on this, he added: “My father was the single most important person in my life. But in some ways, we all live our lives resisting what our parents want us to become.”

In early 1985 Ted Jr. was 23 and living in Somerville, Mass., outside Boston. Tip O’Neill, the district’s longtime representative, had announced he would retire at the end of his term. This seemed an obvious starter gig, but Ted Jr. was not interested. His 34-year-old cousin, Joe — Robert F. Kennedy’s son — ran and won instead. “I never seriously considered that race,” Ted Jr. told me. “My father was strongly considering me.” Ted Sr. commissioned a poll that came back “a slam dunk for Ted,” said Steve McMahon, who was one of the people then running Senator Kennedy’s political operation. Ted Jr.’s decision not to run, McMahon said, “was against the advice and counsel of pretty much everyone around him.” Senator Kennedy was disappointed, Ted Jr. told me. “He couldn’t understand why someone with all the built-in advantages would not take advantage of the opportunity.”

Instead, Ted Jr. enrolled in Yale’s graduate school of forestry. Beyond setting a course away from politics, Ted Jr. told me that he was also trying to escape a one-dimensional identity as an amputee and advocate. “I did not want to be seen as a professional disabled person,” he said.


He gained weight, grew a beard, drank heavily and invited concern that he was priming himself for another, more darkly familiar Kennedy fate. He indulged in what The Boston Globe described as “a playboy-style high life” and “careless social habits.” At about the same time, his cousin, William Kennedy Smith, was charged with rape and faced a subsequent trial that showcased the family’s history of boozy carousing — with the patriarchal senator in a leadership role.

At 29, Ted Jr. enrolled himself in a drug-and-alcohol-treatment program in Hartford. He was always reticent and closed off, he said, which he attributed to being a Kennedy. “It was never very easy for me to express my feelings,” Kennedy told The Globe in 1993, on the eve of his marriage to Kiki. “I think it’s a consequence of growing up in my family and having people prying and feeling like somebody’s always trying to get something from you,” he said. “Then I realized this is no real way to live a life.” His priority, he said, was to start a family and be present as a father. “I realized if I messed that up, it would be the most serious mistake of my life,” he told me. He has not touched alcohol in more than 20 years, he said, because “it just didn’t take much imagination to see the impact that alcohol had on many different people in my family.” Ted’s mother, Joan Kennedy, has also faced many public struggles with alcoholism over the years.

As other Kennedys passed in and out of office (and rehab), the great mentioners and orchestrators consigned Ted Jr. to the terminal-ambivalence compound. His father encouraged him to open a Boston office of Marwood, his consulting firm, to establish more of a presence in Massachusetts, but Ted Jr. resisted.

Then in August 2009, Senator Kennedy died of brain cancer, and Ted Jr. delivered a powerful and much-discussed eulogy  “My name is Ted Kennedy Jr.,” he told the mourners assembled at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston. “Although it hasn’t been easy at times to live with this name, I’ve never been more proud of it than I am today.”


The speech’s emotional climax was a story of his father’s taking him sledding at age 12. He was trying to adapt to his artificial limb, and the hill was slick and hard to climb. He kept slipping and started to cry. “And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget,” Ted Jr. said. “He said: ‘I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.’ ” The eulogy drew a standing ovation and, almost immediately, renewed talk of Ted Jr.’s political future. “A lot of people were asking, ‘Where have you been?’ ” Ted told me.

(Source: The New York Times)

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The cause endures: Ted Kennedy Jr. To Run For Connecticut State Senate Seat

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Ted Kennedy Jr. is planning to run for the state Senate in Connecticut.

Two people briefed on the decision say the son of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts will announce Tuesday that he intends to seek the Democratic nomination for the state’s 12th District. They spoke on condition of anonymity because Kennedy wants to make the announcement.

Kennedy is a 52-year-old health care lawyer who lives in Branford, a coastal town outside New Haven, and has been mentioned as a possible political candidate for years. He had said last month he was considering running for the seat.

The district is represented by Democrat Edward Meyer of Guilford, who is retiring. The seat represents the towns of Branford, Durham, Guilford, Killingworth, Madison and North Branford.

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RFK and the Healing Power of Improvisation

On one of the darkest evenings in American history, RFK reminded us of our potential for greatness.

On April 4, 1968 Robert Kennedy made the greatest speech of his life. In paying tribute to the fallen Martin Luther King, he proved that improvisation can trump political calculation.

America is the story of improvisation.

From the ad hoc debates that framed our founding documents, to the native jazz syncopations that power our cultural soundtrack, to the deeply American notion that we all deserve second chances – our national fabric is woven together by motley patches of spontaneous innovation, creativity and reinvention.

It’s no wonder that we cherish the myth that our history’s greatest oration was scribbled furiously on the back of an envelope during a train ride to a Pennsylvania battlefield.

But while Lincoln’s words were more planned and deliberate, the most significant speech of the 20th century was indeed improvised, a spontaneous burst of prose and poetry in the immediate wake of national tragedy. And much as the Gettysburg Address forever redefined the Founders’ promise that “all men are created equal,” Bobby Kennedy’s extemporaneous eulogy to Martin Luther King, Jr.—delivered 46 years ago today—can offer a path toward a more just, compassionate second act for our country.

It was the evening of April 4, 1968, and a bitter, black nightfall had descended on one of our nation’s grayest days.

Rejecting the impassioned urging of local officials who feared imminent violence, Senator Robert F. Kennedy ascended the back of a flatbed truck in a vacant lot, surrounded by dilapidated public housing units, in the heart of the Indianapolis ghetto. Hair tussled, wearing the old overcoat of his fallen brother, Bobby stepped up to a single microphone before a growingly angry African-American audience that had waited hours in the freezing cold to confirm what many had already heard: that Martin Luther King, Jr.—their Voice—had been permanently silenced. And without notes, speaking directly from his heart, a heart that ached from an unimaginable half-decade of grief—grief for a brother, for a comrade-in-peace, for a nation in turmoil—Robert Kennedy improvised the speech of his life

The speech’s immediate impact is well known: while riots plagued, burned and ravaged 110 American cities that evening, Indianapolis remained calmed by a sober peace.

But Kennedy’s oration also merits a more timeless significance.

His most famous line, reminding the angry audience that his brother too had been felled by a white man’s bullet, were words that only he could have uttered. And only RFK, who had sought the refuge of Greek poetry to cope with his personal grief from the tragedy of Dealey Plaza, would have quoted these same poets in the middle of what would have been a political rally.

But at the core of the speech, you can find universal language: words that could apply to any generation; words that still resonate today:

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black…We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past, but we—and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder. But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

As he had done throughout his 1968 presidential campaign, Kennedy took the opportunity not simply to pacify the crowd in his immediate purview, but also to share a communitarian message that embraced all Americans.

A divisive selfishness had emerged in the late 1960s that had begun to dominate the body politic. If 1967 had the Summer of Love, 1968 brought America the Season of Hate. The anti-Vietnam cauldron was bubbling over, stoked by the heat of the Tet Offensive and the unprecedented prime-time scalding by America’s Most Trusted Man, Walter Cronkite. The civil rights movement had arrived at a bleaker and angrier phase, punctuated by waves of racial violence in urban areas across the country. And Richard Nixon was honing his cynical, yet powerful, appeal to the nation’s bitter undercurrent of selfish resentment, whose targets he would later label the “silent majority.”

Throughout his campaign, but most poignantly on April 4, Kennedy drew upon Greek ideals and Judeo-Christian principles, reminding Americans that the only way that our nation could flourish was through pursuit of a common good. Sure, there would always be outliers and extremists who provoked dissension and divisiveness to strengthen their own selfish hands. But the vast majority of Americans wanted our leaders to put aside their labels on occasion, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to reach for a common higher ground. On one of the darkest evenings in American history, RFK reminded us of our potential for greatness, if only we ignored the haters and remembered the Golden Rule.

We’ve endured more than 40 years of wandering since hope appeared to have taken its final breaths on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, and a few months later, when Bobby himself perished in the kitchen pantry of the Ambassador Hotel. More than 40 years dominated by a bi-partisan politics of self-interest, an involuntary conspiracy among the politicians, industry chieftains, culture vultures, and the media, all battling each other to wrest out their own fleeting piece of power, fifteen minutes of celebrity, or pound of fool’s gold.

For the briefest time, when just as Bobby Kennedy had famously predicted, an African-American had risen to the same seat of power held by his brother, we thought that we may have finally entered a post-partisan, post-racial world.  But it was only after a few months in office—and a loud, angry, tea-flavored strain of self-interested politics had sucked all of the oxygen from the political debate—that most Americans concluded Barack Obama’s powerful message of healing and unity appeared, in retrospect, to be naïve and unattainable.

But as our current leaders continue to slavishly recite the poll- and focus-group-tested sound bites handed to them by their political consultants, it would be wise for them to pause to remember Bobby Kennedy’s improvised moment in 1968. We can continue as a body politic to trade hyper-partisan jabs and appeal to our nation’s most selfish impulses; or we can speak from the heart, without the filter of talking points, and use words that identify and promote a common good—that appeal to our most compassionate instincts, values that are at the heart of both our common religious traditions and the nature of the American experiment itself.

Improvising can certainly be unnerving, especially for politicians who are trained to be risk-averse. But as Bobby Kennedy proved 46 years ago today, we as a nation desperately need leaders who will step out of their comfort zones, and take a leap of faith by trusting the very best of the American people.

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