Today, on what would have been his 80th birthday, I know more than ever the influence of Robert F. Kennedy. Most Americans remember JFK, most love or despise Senator Kennedy (D-MA), and most Americans don't know much about RFK. I guess I'm not most Americans.
Robert Francis Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on November 20, 1925. He was the seventh child of Rose Fitzgerald and Joseph Patrick Kennedy. Having a Harvard education, experience in the Navy, a law degree, the title of Attorney General of the United States, and the Kennedy name, it must have been no surprise when in 1968 he announced his candidacy for President.
But as Emerson once said, "Great men, great nations, have not been boasters and buffoons, but perceivers of the terror of life, and have manned themselves to face it." Bobby Kennedy, more so than his brother before him, knew the dangers of such a campaign.
In 1968 when Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not seek re-election after the surprising New Hampshire primary, there was not just hope for peace in Vietnam, but hope for a whole new generation of Americans as there had once been in 1960.
Just as that hope was defeated November 22, 1963 in Dallas, hope was again defeated on June 6, 1968 in Los Angeles. The assassination of Bobby Kennedy was a blow to the Democratic Party and the nation. The influence, however, of Robert F. Kennedy remains.
You can use your enormous privilege and opportunity to seek purely private pleasure and gain. But history will judge you-- and, as the years pass, you will ultimately judge yourself-- on the extent to which you have used your gifts to lighten and enrich the lives of your fellow man. In your hands-- not with presidents or leaders-- is the future of your world and the fulfillment of the best qualities of your own spirit.I wish I had been there that October day at Berkeley when he spoke those words. Even now, over thirty years later, having never heard those words in person, they ring in my mind. When I was at Arlington National Cemetery I spent a moment at the grave of RFK and as I stood there, humbled by the magnitude of his legacy and yet the simplicity of a white cross secluded from the shrine to his assassinated brother, the belief in me was stronger than ever that had Bobby Kennedy survived that fateful night in the Ambassador Hotel, we would all be living in a much different world.
This day in history the lesser known Kennedy brother was born. This day in history saw the birth of one of the greatest minds in politics.