The Hamilton Spectator

Kennedy would be disappoint­ed


Just over 56 years ago, on March 18, 1968, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy gave an important speech at the University of Kansas. He had just entered the 1968 presidenti­al campaign on March 16, and this was one of his first stops.

Sen. Kennedy was visibly moved by human suffering.

As attorney general of the United States from 1961 to 1964, he took firm action to enforce civil rights laws. This continued into his tenure as junior senator from New York from 1965 to 1968. He was horrified at the poverty he witnessed among African Americans in the Mississipp­i Delta and inner cities, and with Indigenous people on reserves.

He introduced legislatio­n to try and solve these issues, which included the creation of good paying jobs. He supported farm workers in California who were trying to unionize due to terrible, exploitati­ve working conditions.

In this speech in March 1968, Bobby (as he was commonly called) Kennedy took aim at “big money.”

In part of his speech, he lamented: “Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendere­d personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulati­on of material things.

“Our gross national product, now, is over $800 billion a year, but that gross national product — if we judge the United States of America by that — that gross national product 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 the people who break them. It counts the destructio­n of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armoured cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. 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.”

If Sen. Kennedy was alive today, what would he think of how society has progressed in the 56 years since he gave that speech?

I believe he would be horrified at the even greater obsession with wealth that so many individual­s and corporatio­ns have.

Corporatio­ns of course need to make profits to employ people. People need to be employed in order to purchase necessary food and shelter. But in Kennedy’s era, corporatio­ns still had a social conscience and at least on the surface tried to be good corporate citizens and add value to their communitie­s.

I believe he would be disgusted, for example, at the massive profits made by our grocery chains and their refusal to pay their employees a living wage. If he was upset at big business in 1968, imagine how he would feel today!

When we view his words about “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,” when have we heard modern politician­s talk in such a visionary manner?

From the right, we hear nonstop outrage.

From the left, we hear outrage at the right and vague platitudes.

Sen. Kennedy would not be impressed by modern politician­s.

It is discouragi­ng to think if Sen. Robert F. Kennedy appeared in our time, just how disappoint­ed he would see in the “progress” we have made socially and politicall­y in 56 years.

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