In­ter­est in Bobby may be about heal­ing

Truro Daily News - - News - Jim Vib­ert Jim Vib­ert grew up in truro and is a nova Sco­tian jour­nal­ist, writer and for­mer po­lit­i­cal and com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant to gov­ern­ments of all stripes.

Three books about a long-dead Amer­i­can politi­cian climbed to the top of best­sellers’ lists in the past 24 months.

Af­ter win­ning the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Pres­i­den­tial pri­mary, on June 5, 1968, Bobby Kennedy seemed des­tined to win his party’s nom­i­na­tion in Chicago in Au­gust and the White House in November. In­stead, the bul­let that en­tered his brain that night ended his life of­fi­cially the next day.

The Chicago con­ven­tion be­came the epi­cen­tre in the un­even war at home be­tween es­tab­lished law and or­der and mostly-young rad­i­cals who wanted, among other things, to end the war in Viet­nam.

Vice Pres­i­dent Hu­bert Humphrey won the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion, and Repub­li­can Richard Nixon was elected pres­i­dent. The Amer­i­can war in Viet­nam lasted an­other five years.

It’s said that Amer­ica lost her in­no­cence Nov. 22, 1963, when Pres­i­dent John Kennedy was as­sas­si­nated in Dal­las.

Four-and-a-half years later, in a Los An­ge­les ho­tel kitchen, his lit­tle brother died the same way and Amer­ica lost her way.

It may be the sur­name that echoes end­lessly through time, or the near­ing 50th an­niver­sary of his death, but the resur­gence of in­ter­est in a man whose pur­pose be­came heal­ing the wounds of a na­tion, could run deeper.

The books — Chris Matthews’ Bobby Kennedy: A Rag­ing Spirit; The Mak­ing of a Lib­eral Icon, by Larry Tye; and The Rev­o­lu­tion of Robert Kennedy by John Bohrer — all, by ne­ces­sity and to vary­ing de­grees, fo­cus on the meta­mor­pho­sis of Kennedy be­tween his brother’s death and his own.

The tran­si­tion was from tough­minded po­lit­i­cal fighter to a tri­bune for the dis­ad­van­taged, wag­ing “a no­ble cam­paign to unite work­ing-class whites with poor blacks and Lati­nos in an elec­toral coali­tion that seemed poised to re­draw the face of pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics.” — Tye.

The spec­tre of that elec­toral coali­tion is the night­mare that haunts the other­wise lux­u­ri­ous and un­trou­bled sleep of the rul­ing class in Amer­ica.

Bill Clinton and Barak Obama drew to­gether enough el­e­ments of it that, when com­bined with white lib­er­als, they won and held the White House.

But Clinton posed no real threat to en­trenched wealth and power, and Obama was kept in check, first by the near-de­pres­sion and then by a Congress duly bought and paid for.

Fi­nanced by the wealth of in­di­vid­u­als like Omaha’s Koch brothers and mo­bi­lized by or­ga­ni­za­tions like the NRA, suc­cess in keep­ing the nat­u­ral eco­nomic coali­tion di­vided has been re­mark­able. The re­sult is five decades of al­most un­in­ter­rupted con­cen­tra­tion of wealth and — pro­tected by de­ci­sions like Cit­i­zens United — realpoli­tik power in fewer hands.

Pro­gres­sive Amer­i­cans can en­joy their mo­ment of vic­tory in last week’s re­sound­ing back­lash against Trump­ism in state and lo­cal elec­tions. But if they want to re­claim their na­tion, they need to do more than get out the sane vote. They need to re­build Bobby’s coali­tion.

The white work­ing class sent Don­ald Trump to the White House, where the per­ver­sion of the Amer­i­can dream may have reached its apex.

The true colours of the aris­to­crat dis­guised as a pop­ulist are eas­ily rec­og­nized in tax pro­pos­als that in­clude de­duc­tions for pri­vate school tu­ition, while clos­ing the loop­hole that al­lowed pub­lic school teach­ers to claim a de­duc­tion for buy­ing the school sup­plies their stu­dents can’t af­ford.

That kind of tax re­form of­fers the op­por­tu­nity to shake loose white work­ing class vot­ers and bring them into the more pro­gres­sive tent where they be­long.

Trump was never the dar­ling of the right-wing rul­ing elite in Amer­ica. They saw the risk in his brand of di­vi­sion. It’s overt. It opens wounds Amer­i­cans from all de­mo­graph­ics want to heal, and many thought had.

And so more are look­ing back to Bobby Kennedy, whose ef­forts to heal were per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal.

His favourite quote, from the Greek trage­dian Aeschy­lus — “Even in our sleep, pain which can­not for­get falls drop by drop upon the heart, un­til, in our own de­spair, against our will, comes wis­dom through the aw­ful grace of God,” — speaks to his own tragedy and emer­gence, as well as his hope for Amer­ica to also gain wis­dom through its pain.

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