On 50th anniversary of his assassination, Sen. Robert Kennedy’s ideals are more important than ever

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Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)

The impact that Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who died at the hand of an assassin’s bullet 50 years ago today, had on the world generally and the United States in particular can be easily witnessed by viewing the enormous amounts of people who came out to pay their respects as the train carrying his body brought him to his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Men and women of all ages, races, religions and political persuasions came out to watch the train storm past, a way of honoring a man who was far more than a politician. Many saluted, and nearly all had tears in their eyes.

Kennedy’s brother, Sen. Ted Kennedy, best summed up his impact on the world in a magnificent eulogy he gave at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. He should be remembered simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it; who saw suffering and tried to heal it and who saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.

Those words, even a half-century later, send chills down one’s spine. Robert F. Kennedy was by no means a perfect man, and not every position he took was the right one.

Who among us, though, could disagree with the sentiment of a man who sees wrong and tries to right it, sees suffering and tries to heal it and who sees war and tries to stop it?

We have, sadly, become tribal and have lost in large measure the realization that we are all on the same team, one people who want the best for ourselves, our families and each other. How we get there can be debated fiercely, as it should, but we need to do so with Sen. Kennedy’s unending commitment to leave the world a better place than he found it.

His speech in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968, announcing that civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated was an extraordinary example of this. Police and his personal security detail urged him not to go, that for his own safety he should cancel his appearance because riots were expected.

Kennedy, though, would have none of it and delivered a speech that made one proud to be an American.

 

Technologies that weren’t even conceived of in 1968 were designed to bring us together. We can pick up our phones and see and talk with someone on the other side of the world as if they were in the other room. We have access to more information than any peoples before us, yet all too often we use that not to promote understanding and not for the common good, but to hate on each other and creation fissures in our society that may never be healed.

Many of us never read the comments on the internet, because what is there is so vile, vitriolic and repugnant, sans any redeeming qualities.

Had he lived and been elected president, Sen. Kennedy undoubtedly would have angered many, and advocated policies that many disagreed with vehemently. That is the beauty of our system, that we can disagree and we can debate with each other until we collectively come to the right answer.

Now, we argue about things as inconsequential as whether professional football players should stand for the national anthem.

Kennedy’s death snuffed out in many ways a different world, a consensus-seeking world in which we tried as best we could to create a utopian society.

“What we need in the United States is not hatred, but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another,” he said in another remarkable speech.

We’ll never get there, sadly, but Robert F. Kennedy’s life reminds us that we should never stop trying.

 

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