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Bobby and Barack

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“Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.” – William F. Buckley

Countless times over the years I’ve found myself wondering how different the United States would be today if Senator Robert F. Kennedy not only had not been assassinated the night he won the California primary, but had gone on to be elected president. And by different, there was always the automatic assumption that I wondered how much better off the country might be today. I never considered the possibility that an RFK presidency would be anything less than God’s gift to America.

But lately, as I watch the devoted frenzy presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama inspires in his supporters, I find myself wondering something else about Bobby Kennedy, something that never occurred to me before: What if he’d lived and been elected to the Oval Office…and he was, in fact, not able to deliver all he’d promised, or even get close to it. How would his devoted supporters have reacted to that? How would they have handled the disappointment? Would they have turned on him? As unpleasant a thought as it is, I have to think they would have at some point. No one likes to be let down by someone they’ve given their enthusiastic, undying support to, someone whose word they have taken on faith, someone in whom they have entrusted all their hopes and dreams for a better America; whatever their idea of a better America might be.

With the sometimes fanatical devotion Obama evokes among those who are convinced he can right all the wrongs – real or perceived – of our country and somehow cleanse us of all our sins, there’s no mistaking the similarities between the effect RFK inspired in 1968 and the effect Obama is having forty years later.

He hasn’t won everyone over – including staunch conservatives, people of any political stripe who would like to see a presidential candidate with a bit more experience than Obama brings to the game, and of course, many, many unhappy Hillary Clinton supporters. And I’m certainly not suggesting that Obama is in RFK’s class – I don’t think he is. But there is one inarguable similarity: Both candidates promised big things, life-changing things. Both promised a better world, a perfect world, where things are finally the way they should be. And in doing so they both created an expectation that, should they win the presidency, they can be counted on to fulfill these lofty promises.

We never got to see if Bobby could deliver. But now I wonder about Obama – what happens if he’s elected and finds that it’s easy to talk about changing the world, but a little more difficult to actually make it happen? There are more factors involved than just the desire to create change. If it were that simple, we’d all be doing it. But reality has an unfortunate habit of dashing dreams, it’s the wake-up call no idealistic person wants to get.

Then there’s the double-edged sword of the Congress that a President Obama would inherit. Sure, it’s a Congress with a Democratic majority, but it’s also a Congress that currently has a pathetic 9% approval rating with the American public, which is even lower than President Bush’s approval rating. Even worse, this is a fact that Democrats seem determined to conveniently ignore. When your approval rating is worse than a man who will probably go down in history – accurately or not – as one of the worst and least popular presidents ever, you need to take a good, hard look at yourself and wonder what the hell you are doing wrong; wonder why you don’t have the trust or faith of the public you supposedly represent. And this Congress can’t do that; they don’t have the humility, the sense, or the self-awareness. How useful can these people be to a president who has promised a change from politics as usual?

And if this Congress becomes a political liability to President Obama? Well, we’ve seen what happens to people like that. Ask Obama’s good friend and spiritual adviser of twenty years how it feels to be cast aside when you become a political liability. I’m pretty sure this isn’t how Reverend Jeremiah Wright saw his role in an Obama presidency playing out.

Not to mention that, if the bloom fades from the Obama rose, his fellow Democrats won’t hesitate to take a page from his own playbook and distance themselves from him. That’s politics…as usual.

There are many things that could happen under an Obama presidency: He actually could be the savior of America, or he could completely fall on his face. Thing is, I don’t think he’s considered the possibility of the latter, which means he probably doesn’t have a plan for dealing with it. And he needs to.

Robert Kennedy’s death was a huge, irreplaceable loss for America and her people. I do think he would have done great things, even if not everything for which he created expectations.  Most people, I think, can agree on one thing regarding Kennedy: He was sincere and genuinely wanted to make the country a better place for all Americans. Kennedy came from a wealthy, privileged family and didn’t have to take on the cause of the poor and oppressed. He could have easily led a long life of careless leisure. He certainly didn’t have to make himself a target.

I truly think Obama is more of a political animal, possibly a product of the notoriously crooked Chicago political machine, and there’s no way to put a positive spin on that. But maybe that’s what you need to get elected these days. Can’t blame a guy for playing by the rules. But if that’s the case, I can blame him for presenting himself as not part of the political machine, and creating unrealistic expectations. Imagine how his supporters will react if they find this out the hard way. Betrayal is humiliating, and no one responds well to that.

Look, if Obama is elected president, and turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to America and the world, I will happily admit that I’m wrong. Because I am of the opinion that anything good for America is a good thing. Even if it means I was ridiculously, stupidly wrong. I would be thrilled to be proven wrong about a politician.

But however all this plays out, I’ll still wonder how different things would be today if Kennedy had lived to serve as president. I’m guessing things would be better.

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About Melinda Loomis

  • Lisa Solod Warren

    Interesting article but there is one big problem with your logic: that either Bobby or Barack thought (think) they can change the world. Bobby was an idealist, yes, but we know from history that he was not beyond corruption. We idealize him because he was murdered. Barack may be whipping some people into a frenzy but that says more about them than him. This country is dying for some real leadership and a leader that seems like he has an idea in his head. Barack does not offer to save the world or solve all of our problems. Far from it. He is an intellectual and knows full well the tough road ahead. I would not be president for all the money in the world and I wonder why any smart, sane person would. But Barack Obama is not suffering under some grand delusion that he can be all things to all people (You are buying in the Republican slams); he is just trying to give it his all. He just wants a chance to see what he can do. I suspect he will, like most presidents, succeed at some things and fail at others. I suspect that his reach exceeds his grasp. But at least his reach does not seem greedy and morally repugnant, like Bush’s, not hell bent on legislating his morality to the rest of us (like John McCain and his plans for the Supreme Court).

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    Melinda,

    I, too, have long lamented the untimely and violent loss of Bobby Kennedy. And I do think things would be different today had he lived to be president. Whether that “difference” would be better or worse is, of course, not knowable. It’s all speculation.

    Bobby did inspire people. And remember, his candidacy was very short lived. He was late to throw his hat into the ring, and obviously, his departure was premature.

    Obama has garnered a similar inspired following as did Kennedy. And just what type of political animal Obama is, is also still up for grabs. It should be remembered though, that Bobby did not suddently materialize out of the mist in the spring of 1968. He, too, was a political animal. As his brother’s Attorney General, Bobby was considered to be pretty ruthless. Bobby and his brother’s administration were dragged kicking and screaming into the civil rights movement. Initially, they wanted nothing to do with it.

    It wasn’t till after Bobby toured such places as the Bedford-Stuyvesant ghetto in Brooklyn that he was truly moved by the plight of the poor in this country.

    Obama has a lot to prove. Many are skeptical of his ability to achieve much of what he proposes.

    But that is generally true of any political candidate. It is their job as candidates to promise the moon and stars. Ultimately, that is the basic tenet of American advertising. Alas, far too many people actually believe that their chosen candidate will be able to deliver us to the land of milk and honey. There certainly is a greater sense of anticipation with Obama, but there are undoubtedly a number of McCain admirers who believe the same of him.

    The fact is, they ALL fail. None ever achieve the heights they promise during their respactive campaigns. Some fail more than others, or to be more positive, some succeed more than others. But they all fall short. Often dramatically so.

    I will say, though, that it’s more exciting to be hopeful with someone like Obama. It’s hard to get the juices flowing over old Johnny Boy.

    B

  • bliffle

    I thought at the time that Bobby might win the nomination but would almost certainly lose the election. Not everyone was so fond of The Kennedys.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    I can’t see why anyone would think that Bobby Kennedy would have been a great president, other than for reasons of cheesy sentimentality. What exactly is it that you think he was going to do?

    Any idiot politician can spout idealistic bromides about “change” and such, but it is usually (at least in American politics) idealistic over reach that causes a lot of the worst problems.

    Dubya’s efforts that way in Iraq are a great example. Getting rid of Hussein might have been done and thought of as successful fairly quickly. It’s the part of rebuilding the country and trying to make it a model democracy that’s given us such bad heartburn.

    Before that, there was Jimmy Carter and his disasterous idealism. This caused him, among other things, to abandon the somewhat corrupt and autocratic Shah and let the mullahs take Iran.

    One could only hope that Obama is just a lying hack faking idealism for the voters.

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    I believe that Bobby would have in fact won that election had he won the nomination. As it was, the old political hack, Hubert Humphrey nearly beat Nixon.

    As to what kind of president RFK would have made, again, it is simply pure speculation. However, I don’t believe that he was any kind of wide eyed idealist. He certainly had awakened to the plight of the poorest Americans and had joined more or less in concert with the civil rights movement. Mainly, at that time, he was most vocal in his opposition to our involvement in Vietnam. While that involvement was in many ways just as complex as our current entanglement in Iraq, it is likely that he would have worked effectively to get us out of that ‘no-win’ conflict as quickly as possible, certainly sooner and with less casualties than the Nixon administration managed.

    Are we really going to argue that Dick Nixon, “Mr. Paranoia,” perhaps our first truly sociopathic president, managed his presidency in general, and the Vietnam conflict in particular with adequate competence?

    B

  • http://roseparade.typepad.com Melinda Loomis

    I agree with all the comments that our view of RFK is at least partly rose-colored due to his tragic death and a curiosity of what could have been, especially in view of what the Nixon administration brought.

    I also agree he wasn’t as squeaky clean as we like to remember him – I’ve read stories about the Chicago mob bosses helping JFK’s election. This is supposedly one of the reasons they were so pissed when RFK, as Attorney General, targeted the mob. There was definitely a Kennedy political machine that started with their father and trickled down.

    My view of Obama as idealistic is just my personal opinion, based on what I’ve seen of him. I think a lot of it has to do with his limited experience, especially on a national level. If he’d waited another 4-8 years to run and had a lot more experience, I think I would take him more seriously. I am really intrigued by the effect that he’s had on so many people, like he’s more than a mere man or mere politician, especially since I consider myself reasonably intelligent and I’m not seeing any of it.

    I also find that however positive I might be in other areas of life, when it comes to politicians I’ve become pretty cynical over the years. It’s entirely possible that if there was a candidate who was the best thing to happen to this country, I would have the same skeptical response I’ve had to Obama. But like I mentioned in the article, this person – if it’s Obama or someone else – is free to prove that I was wrong about them. I’d actually like that.

    Thanks everyone, for all the comments.

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    That Obama has been elevated to a high level by his following isn’t altogether his fault. It’s similar to say, rock musicians who become super stars before they know what’s happened, yet basically all they want to do is play music.

    I think especially the early enthusiastic response to Obama pretty much took him by surprise. That that enthusiasm has apparently flattened out, is perhaps a good thing.

    This period since Obama clinched the nomination leading up to the Convention has been a bit odd. In retrospect his trip to the Middle East and Europe did not play well here. Personally, I think it was a good thing. Nevertheless, McCain has been edging up on Obama in the polls.

    I am anxious to see how things will begin to play out after both conventions have come and gone. That period from around the second week of September to the election in November will be the stretch run, the final heat to use an Olympic allusion. I look forward to seeing Obama and McCain go head to head in the three scheduled debates and all the other campaigning which will be the true test for both of them.

    B

  • Arch Conservative

    “In retrospect his trip to the Middle East and Europe did not play well here.”

    Gee he won’t engage in a single townhall debate with McCain where real US citizens ask tough unscripted questions but he will give a “rock star” speech to 200,000 drunken guys and gals named Klaus and Helga and it’s surprising that his European trip didn’t go well?

  • http://roseparade.typepade.com Melinda Loomis

    “Gee he won’t engage in a single townhall debate with McCain where real US citizens ask tough unscripted questions but he will give a “rock star” speech to 200,000 drunken guys and gals named Klaus and Helga and it’s surprising that his European trip didn’t go well?”

    I actually wrote and posted this article before I saw or heard any of the Saddleback Forum. Having now seen and heard clips, I can see why Obama would avoid such a setting. A setting that is not scripted, rehearsed and controlled is not his strong point.

    I was floored by Obama’s performance at Saddleback, and not in a good way. Where was the inspiring great speaker I’d heard so much about? He uuuhhhed and dissembled and failed to actually answer so many questions directly that I can’t believe he still has followers. And to make it worse, he was followed by an opponent who did what he didn’t do – answer questions decisively and on point, without going off on a tangent.

    I’m not a fan of McCain, but he not only made Obama look like a rank amateur, he seriously impressed someone who didn’t want to be impressed by him (me). McCain showed that if nothing else, unlike Obama, he can be decisive, even in his doddering old age. He can make the hard decisions. The three a.m phone call decisions.

    This freestyle forum, which may have once seemed harmless to Obama and not much help to McCain, may have just decided the election.

  • Clavos

    I agree with your comment above, Melinda, but would quibble a little with you by saying that, while it’s obviously true that McCain is no spring chicken, he is certainly not “doddering;” a fact that was more than apparent at Saddleback

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    As I’ve stated, I, too, believe that McCain carried the day at Saddleback.

    However, the characterization of Obama as having done badly is far overstated. Keep in mind that this was NOT his crowd. McCain had the ready answers for the questions that he KNEW the audience wanted to hear. Obama’s positions on abortion and same sex marriage among others do not conform to those of Warren nor, for the most part, the audience. One might have seen McCain squirm a bit had he been sitting in front of 2000 people at a Planned Parenthood or Gay Rights convention.

    I personally find McCain a bit obnoxious in his self-righteous preening. In any case do we really want another president who shoots from the hip? Or would it be nice just for a change to have someone in the Oval Office who actually thinks before he acts?

    As usual Arch shows his ignorance regarding, well, about everything. There was no evidence that Klaus and Helga were drunk. That sentence by its very tone is stupid and condescending. After nearly 8 years of the dumbest American president in history, the Germans were excited to witness the possibility of someone ascending to the WH with a brain. Should the current trend boosting McCain ahead in the polls continue, we will quite unfortunately be forced to slog through the muck and mire of at least 4 more years of a Neanderthalic Republican administration. Apparently, a majority of Americans like the notion that much of the rest of the world either hates our guts and/or just think we’re a nation of mindless idiots. Leaders of the free world, my ass!

    B

  • Clavos

    Apparently, a majority of Americans like the notion that much of the rest of the world either hates our guts and/or just think we’re a nation of mindless idiots.

    Or, they’re simply are not interested in whether or not the US is well liked, or that it remain the “leader of the world,” or even wins the title of Miss Congeniality.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/dan_miller Dan Miller

    Baritone,

    Obama’s positions on abortion and same sex marriage among others do not conform to those of Warren nor, for the most part, the audience. One might have seen McCain squirm a bit had he been sitting in front of 2000 people at a Planned Parenthood or Gay Rights convention.

    Perhaps I am naive or otherwise missing something. However, I thought that the Saddleback event was widely televised and had a large audience far exceeding the some two thousand people (likely Republican voters?) physically present at the venue. If such was the case, and assuming that both Senator Obama and Senator McCain were pandering to their prospective voters, why would the composition of the audience physically present at Saddleback have made much of a difference?

    Dan

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    Dan,

    I thought of the same thing earlier and came to this conclusion: It’s that “physically present” factor which had a significant influence on Obama’s answers. Consider, if Obama had answered the “When does human life begin?” question with, say, “At the moment of birth.” (I don’t know if that’s what Obama believes, but just as a ‘for instance.’) it’s very possible that the audience would have responded negatively and verbally. How do you suppose that would have played to the larger TV audience?

    Contrary to your contention, I think the “physically present” audience, and their reactions had a significant influence which made it necessary for Obama to choose his words carefully. Obviously and particularly on the hot button social issues that are generally paramount to christians, McCain had the ready and easy answers. As I suggested, had the audience been more sympathetic to Obama’s positions, McCain may well have felt his collar sticking and sweat running down his back as he sorted out his answers.

    B

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    Clav,

    But that’s just the problem, isn’t it? A large number of Americans don’t give a rat’s ass what other people think of us, yet, owing to our position of supposed leadership in world affairs – politically, economically, culturally and militarily – our actions, or our lack of action usually have significant ripple effects throughout much of the world. Our belief that WE are the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room and everyone else should kowtow to us is at the least obnoxious, and at worst in the long run dangerous to our best interests. I don’t suppose we have to be loved by the rest of the world, but it certainly could be to our advantage to be respected. Currently, and largely we are not.

    B

  • Clavos

    But that’s just the problem, isn’t it?

    Only if you consider it so (and I realize you do); many (if not all) of the people who are indifferent to world perceptions of the US would say (as part of their indifference) that it’s not a problem.

    And I think you’re making a mistake in conflating those who consider the US to be the 800 Lb. gorilla which doesn’t need to care, with those who are indifferent (indeed, even inimical) to the idea that the US’ proper place is as leader of the world, with responsibility for its well being.

    I think that many (if not most) of those who don’t care about world opinion also do not agree with the idea that the US is and should be leader of the world; they are more likely to believe that the US should, first and foremost (even exclusively), tend to its own problems, fix its own house and not interfere in the machinations of the rest of the globe, except as directly relate to our own well being. Not isolationism, but not world cop and benefactor, either.

    I count myself in that latter group; I think we should principally act in our own best interests and not worry whether the French or Chinese approve.

  • Jordan Richardson

    I think we should principally act in our own best interests and not worry whether the French or Chinese approve.

    The problem is that the United States’ tendency to “act in its own interests” often impedes upon the interests of other nations to live peaceful lives and have the leadership and political systems that they want. There is simply a long history of American interests nosing about in other corners of the world, pushing their ideologies on people, placing military icons and bases where they don’t belong, and generally treating the world as their oyster. Whether this is intentional or not, it is the perception.

    So while I agree with the basic premise that Americans should look after their own interests (and I think the rest of the world would LOVE IT if that were the case), it seems to me that all of this posturing about the “spread of democracy” and this so-called “war on terror” has little to do with anything inherently domestic and everything to do with policing the world, creating societies in other countries that benefit American interests, and bullying smaller countries. History bears this out, too, with extensive lessons learned on just about every continent.

    What this policy says to the world is that American interests are more important than anyone elses’. Surely that’s not what you believe.

  • Clavos

    it seems to me that all of this posturing about the “spread of democracy” and this so-called “war on terror” has little to do with anything inherently domestic and everything to do with policing the world, creating societies in other countries that benefit American interests, and bullying smaller countries.

    Agreed, there has been way too much of America “policing the world” in the recent past, especially. And not what I meant about “acting in our own best interests.” I especially do not believe that America should try to spread democracy around the world, nor do I think America should interfere with despots, unless they begin to interfere with us. As an example: what’s going on in the Sudan does not interfere with us; we should stay out of it. Ditto Georgia, or Zimbabwe.

    What this policy says to the world is that American interests are more important than anyone elses’. Surely that’s not what you believe.

    To Americans, they should be, but in the context outlined above, and not to the detriment of other nations. If you’re asking if we should care whether or not Quebec wants to separate, I don’t think so.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Agreed. Much in the same way we Canucks shouldn’t care who your next president is.

  • Clavos

    …we Canucks shouldn’t care who your next president is.

    That’s up to you Canucks…

  • Jordan Richardson

    Indeed it is. I think more of us know who your president is than know who our PM is, sadly.

  • Clavos

    Understandable, since you and the Mexicans are forced to sleep in the same room with the elephant.

  • Clavos

    Porfirio Diaz, nineteenth century Mexican President (1876-1880 and 1884-1911) once said,

    “Poor Mexico! So far from God, and so close to the United States!”

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    Or the gorilla.

    B

  • http://roseparade.typepade.com Melinda Loomis

    “I agree with your comment above, Melinda, but would quibble a little with you by saying that, while it’s obviously true that McCain is no spring chicken, he is certainly not “doddering;” a fact that was more than apparent at Saddleback”

    Clavos, that was my bad – the “doddering” comment was meant to refer to a lot of people’s (myself included, at least until Saddleback) perception of what McCain’s age represented as a liability to his candidacy compared to young, fresh blood Obama, not so much the reality of the situation.

    To McCain’s credit, he’s been through more in his life than most people could ever imagine and he’s still hanging tough and I have nothing but respect for that.

    Having said that, it doesn’t change the fact that when McCain announces his VP, I will be viewing said VP as a potential president, moreso than Obama’s VP. It’s just something that has to be considered and believe me, I hate to have to do it. My parents are just a few years behind McCain age-wise and God knows I don’t want to think of them as being gone anytime soon, or at all for that matter.

    If I got anything out of the Saddleback Forums, its that Obama cannot seem to answer a question directly, while McCain was sharp and direct. I didn’t want to be impressed by McCain, but that’s exactly what happened. I have my issues with McCain, but I feel a lot less worse about voting for him than I did a week ago tonight.