Robert Kennedy in 1968

Steve Novick

“We cannot continue to deny and postpone the demands of our own people, while spending billions in the name of freedom for others.”

A few years ago, a friend loaned me a copy of a book of the speeches Robert Kennedy made during his too-brief 1968 Presidential campaign. Yesterday my friend called to ask me to please return the darned book! So this evening I found the book, and of course I started rereading it. Here are some passages I wanted to share …

“I have seen the inexcusable and ugly deprivation which causes children to starve in Mississippi, black citizens to riot in Watts, young Indians to commit suicide on their reservations, and proud and able-bodied families to wait out their lives in empty idleness in eastern Kentucky.”

“Together we can make ourselves a nation that spends more on books than on bombs, more on hospitals than the terrible tools of war, more on decent houses than on military aircraft.”

“We can match our great unfulfilled needs – for housing and schools, roads and recreational facilities, public facilities and public services – with the hundreds of thousands of men and women, without jobs or in menial jobs … And let us not be discouraged by the legitimate questions of resources, by those who ask where, in the face of a $30 billion war and fiscal crisis, we shall find the money … We can slow down the race to the moon, if it means the salvation of our nation here on earth. We can postpone work on the supersonic transport … We can press our efforts for an early end to the war in Vietnam.”

“If we try to look through the eyes of the young slum-dweller – the Negro, and the Puerto Rican, and the Mexican American – the world is a dark and hopeless place indeed … I have seen, in my own state of New York, these children crowded with adults into one or two rooms, without adequate plumbing or heat, each night trying to defend against marauding rats.”

[Cesar Chavez said of his friend Robert Kennedy, “He could see things through the eyes of the poor … It was like he was ours.”]

“We cannot continue to deny and postpone the demands of our own people, while spending billions in the name of freedom for others.”

“We must understand that the root problem [in health care] is one of structure – one which goes to the heart of our method of delivering health care. We are pumping billions of dollars of new money into the health industry – but without the slightest effort to change the existing system, a system under which people are cared for in the costliest of institutions, the hospital, by the costliest of manpower, the doctor … No program to improve the nation’s health will be effective unless we understand the conditions of injustice which underlie disease. It is illusory to think we can cure a sickly child – and ignore his need for enough food to eat … Education, jobs, community participation, an end to hunger, these are the elements of a healthy citizenry. And they must be achieved. For it is neither economical nor compassionate to care for the consequences of poverty, and ignore its roots.”

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    Profound thanks to Steve Novick and to Blue Oregon for reminding us of these truths, and of the moral and intellectual force this nation's leadership once exerted on our thinking.

    Obama's budget speech was encouraging, but we're a long way today from the sense of common cause Kennedy articulated. Of course, he was assassinated, and those who preach responsibility rather than greed are always at risk in US politics.

    Violence bubbles just under the surface here, as it does elsewhere in the world; we are not much more "civilized" than any other nation, and less well educated. (See Chris Hedges article in yesterday's AlterNet and Truthout.)

    I think only the peaceful resistance of millions of ordinary people can overcome the sociopathic ideology of the far right, and the stranglehold it now has on our public institutions and popular media.

    Perhaps privately, community by community, we'll figure out ways to work together and help each other survive and prosper and take care of our parts of the planet, gradually de-coupling ourselves from the global power grids (both senses of the term) that "serve" us at such great cost in money, lives, liberty, and integrity.

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    Response to Robert Kennedy's Speech by the Obama White House

    Public: This kind of extremist rhetoric is counterproductive. It only makes it more difficult for us to do the work of compromising with the Republican leadership.

    Private: This guy is just another "professional leftist." But don't worry: we can convince most people that they have to vote for a corporate centrist. Let's just make sure it's OUR guy that gets the votes, not Romney or Petraeus or any of those guys.

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