Monday, January 08, 2007


Warning: this post contains a little bit of maudlin hero worship. We apologize for the interruption, and promise that we will return to our regularly scheduled program of bitchy ranting tomorrow.

Recently, I rewatched a biopic about Bobby Kennedy (titled, oddly enough, RFK). While the movie was pretty poor, it reminded me again of one of my favorite speeches. At the end of the film, over footage of Kennedy's body travelling cross country by train, the movie played a recording of his University of Kansas speech from March, 1968:

Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product ... if we should judge America by that, 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 those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. 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 tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

Personally, I tend to sympathize with Robert Kennedy's politics, although I don't really buy into the martyr mystique. He was a deeply flawed human being who could be vicious and vindictive. However, love him or hate him, I think it's impossible to not be impressed with this speech. I don't know if its genius lies in the concrete examples he uses or in the rhythm of the writing, but there's something about it that deeply moves me. I guess that, ultimately, the key element is a honoring of America and what it stands for. Like Lincoln's Lyceum speech, this piece recognizes that the greatest threat to American society lies within its borders.

I wish that this level of public rhetoric still existed in the United States. When the Vice President tells Patrick Leahy to "fuck yourself" on the floor of the Senate, I can't help but feel that we've slipped a notch or two.

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  • I had not seen that about the F.U! Wow!! Reading the article, I had to laugh...since the republicans claim to be so christian and moral, maybe they should remember "sow and ye shall reap..." HA!!!

    By Blogger Claudia, At January 8, 2007 at 11:50 AM  

  • RFK had his flaws, but then again, tragic flaws are what make for heroes.

    Yeah, where are the true statesmen? I'm been impressed with Obama's gift of speech, but I can't yet tell how genuine he is. RFK was, I think, the real thing under his warts.

    The day Bobby was shot, I remember thinking to myself that we had lost the best of the Kennedys. (I'm an old guy, so I remember all those assassinations very well.)

    Out of chaos arises new order. Since we most definitely seem to be in political choas, maybe better days are on the horizon.

    By Blogger Mystic Wing, At January 8, 2007 at 12:54 PM  

  • Claudia-
    Right there with you. On the other hand, maybe the Christian right doesn't have a problem with it, given that Leahy is a godless Democrat!

    Mystic Wing-
    Unfortunately, I came along after this period in history. Although I have fuzzy memories of Nixon, the first president I really remember is Ford.

    I, like so many others, envy a time when our leaders, good and bad, seemed like people to emulate. Frankly, I'd be nervous about letting most contemporary politicians watch my kid, let alone run my country.

    By Blogger Crankster, At January 8, 2007 at 5:40 PM  

  • I also was around when both Bobby and his older brother Jack, were assassinated as well as Martin Luther King. I'll never forget his courage when Dr. King was murdered. He stood and tried to quell the anger of the black community explaining that he knew what it was like since his brother had also been killed by a gunman. No other politician made such an attempt. You can argue that he was unsuccessful. You can argue that his words weren't as poetic. I'll never forget his courage.

    By Blogger The CEO, At January 8, 2007 at 5:47 PM  

  • Beautiful speaach full of hope and promise

    Very rarely do we get a politician who looks out for the integrity of the nation rather than self interest.

    First president I remember clearly - understanding he was our "leader" was Jimmy Carter.

    By Blogger Pickled Olives, At January 8, 2007 at 9:03 PM  

  • CEO-
    It's particularly galvanizing when you realize that the Police were afraid to go into Harlem that night. I'm with you: poetic? Not really. Heroic? Yeah.

    The thing that gets me is how even the concept of "ideals" seems silly and dated.

    By Blogger Crankster, At January 8, 2007 at 10:25 PM  

  • So forget what we truly stand for...and replace it with back stabbing..egoism. Thank you for the reminder of who we all should be.

    By Blogger Odat, At January 9, 2007 at 9:03 AM  

  • As someone who used to teach rhetoric, I am always excited by excellent writing. I wonder if the proliferation of the mass media had something to do with the death of the great political speech - such a visual medium as television does not encourage grand rhetoric in its faux intimacy. Just a thought.

    The sentiment is an interesting one, too, and one I have much sympathy with. Kind of makes me think about all those types of deodorant...


    By Blogger Glamourpuss, At January 9, 2007 at 4:46 PM  

  • My favorite memory of Bobby was when he told a group of people about MLK's death and quoted this passage from Aeschylus from memory:

    He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

    I took it upon myself to memorize it too, and have recalled it so many times over the years. He was a brilliant and well educated man, and like all of the Kennedy's he believed strongly that he owed something back to the world for giving him the advantages he enjoyed. I know he was flawed and could not have been in public office in the current climate, but I can't help wonder where our country would be if he had lived. The man could definitely talk.

    By Blogger Spellbound, At January 9, 2007 at 9:06 PM  

  • Odat-
    In the end, most of us seem to have the same goals; the difference lies in our path to those goals. And, of course, in our path to forgetting them.

    I've been trying to get back on track to becoming the person I wanted to be when I was a kid...

    You got me. Best of all, although there were thirty deodorants, there were only about ten scents. The rest was a matter of packaging.

    As a product of the eighties, I find myself fighting against my childhood lessons.

    I'm impressed by his knowledge (not to mention yours!) and his eloquence, but what gets me the most is his ability to question himself and grow. He worked to move beyond his limitations, and was dynamic, changing constantly throughout his political career. How few of us can do that!

    By Blogger Crankster, At January 9, 2007 at 9:22 PM  

  • Crankster,

    I guess that's what's always gets me about today's culture/society/whatever. That there is such a huge disconnect between our adult selves and who we strove to be as children that I think even our children are picking up on that... and ceasing to be kids.

    It's the myth of the idea of progress on some levels. I think (yeah, even with the deodorants) that we're looking for bigger better faster more, when in fact we're forgetting that THIS IS IT and not living up to our potential in the moment.

    Which of course, gets me on my other favorite subject - stuckness. That is, getting stuck in a rut of thinking that life has to be a certain way and you have to drive a certain car and your kids have to be in ballet/french/soccer/gymnastics/whatever and if they're not then you're somehow failing as a human/parent/whatever.

    Soapbox over for today.

    By Blogger misanthropster, At January 9, 2007 at 10:54 PM  

  • Reminders like this one almost make me sad to read and reflect upon past works. There used to be an eloquence to everyday speech, poetry in the vernacular, that we have lost. It seems to be a vocal reflection of our society as a whole, slowly losing class one phrase at a time.

    By Blogger rhapsody, At January 9, 2007 at 11:47 PM  

  • I'm a product of the eighties, too. But felt totally disenfranchised throughout and repulsed by the 'greed is good' philosophy that prevailed.

    Capitalism has sold us a lie - nothing external to ourselves has the capacity to make us happy/worthwhile/good. All our value lies within. All our happiness resides in realising this.

    But I still like pretty things. And don't even get me started on pretty, sparkly things...


    By Blogger Glamourpuss, At January 10, 2007 at 7:39 AM  

  • Misanthropster-
    You know how I hate to use the term "outside the box" (seriously, could that phrase be more inside the box?), but you're absolutely right. I guess we like limitations, in some ways, because they give our lives order, but we need to recognize that most of these limitations are self-created and are, ultimately, representative of a lack of imagination.

    Beautifully put. Although I hate him, Alexander Pope had a phrase that I loved: "true wit is nature to advantage dressed, what oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed." I have to wonder if our inability to beautifully express our ideas reflects an inability to have those ideas. Do we need the language of beauty to think of beauty?

    You more or less nailed my own dilemma. I am, in the final analysis, a consumer, although I realize that consumption does not, and cannot, equal happiness. I guess the answer, which I try to pursue, is a deliberate minimization of consumption coupled with an active pursuit of experience and thought.

    11:59 AM

    By Blogger Crankster, At January 10, 2007 at 12:58 PM  

  • Nicely worded there!

    "minimization of consumption coupled with an active pursuit of experience and thought"

    That is what we should ALL strive for.

    By Blogger Pickled Olives, At January 10, 2007 at 1:12 PM  

  • What a wonderful quote. I do not necessarily think we need beautiful language to think of beauty, but to adequately express it in terms of widespread understanding, it certainly helps. Small variations of vocabulary evoke very different images. It's the difference between crimson and red. Verbal communication is in no way ideal, but it is often most relied upon.

    By Blogger rhapsody, At January 10, 2007 at 1:33 PM  

  • Before excellence comes the basics. We don't really teach kids to read and write anymore. Forget thinking. Not that I have an opinion, naturally.

    By Blogger The CEO, At January 11, 2007 at 1:41 AM  

  • Rhapsody-
    An interesting perspective. I guess the problem is that students aren't sufficiently encouraged to seek the beauty in the works of previous generations.


    I am, unfortunately, a little uncomfortable about discussing my own experiences with this nonsense, as I am currently employed by a "major, mid-Atlantic university," in the parlance of Penthouse. However, it has come to my attention that the teaching of critical thinking is actively discouraged in academe.

    By Blogger Crankster, At January 11, 2007 at 10:40 AM  

  • Considering what this country was going through when he gave that speech, the sentiments are all the more striking. The legend is always bigger than the lowly mortal to which the title is attached, even so, it would be interesting to see which direction this country would have gone if Robert Kennedy had been given a chance to drag that big bag full of idealism into the white house.

    By Blogger slaghammer, At January 11, 2007 at 4:23 PM  

  • Slaghammer-
    It's funny, but I can't even imagine if he'd won. So many things would have influenced so many other things...

    By Blogger Crankster, At January 12, 2007 at 1:50 PM  

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