“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.