Friday, June 06, 2008

Remembering Bobby Kennedy

Forty years ago today, Robert F. Kennedy died after being hit with an assassin's bullet. He didn't have the opportunity to fulfill his political promise, but he won many admirers for his stance against the Vietnam War, against poverty and the imbalance of wealth, and for equal rights for all Americans. That Kennedy, a popular figure in the black community for his support of the civil rights movement, was killed shortly after Martin Luther King illustrates the status of black Americans forty years ago. Back then, a politician saying he or she supported civil rights for blacks was like a politician today coming out in favor of gay rights; it was a very polarizing issue. I can only hope that in another forty years, rights for gays will have reached the status of civil rights for blacks, as a right that no hopeful leader would dare question without committing political suicide. Robert Kennedy was ahead of the curve, aligning himself with the civil rights movement and the efforts of leaders like Martin Luther King, and he was killed for it. Kennedy was only human, and he was far from perfect, but at least he tried to make a difference.
On the subject of assassinating political figures, it always seems to have the opposite effect the assassin intended. With the exception of John Hinckley, who had no personal beef with Ronald Reagan and would have shot anyone who happened to be President at that time, Sirhan Sirhan, James Earl Ray, John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald (or whoever you happen to think killed JFK) and anyone else who killed or attempted to kill a public figure probably hoped to enact a counter-revolution by killing the revolutionary figure of their choosing. But that's never what happens. All the assassins do is turn their victims into martyrs for the cause, giving them an aura of near-saintliness that they may not have been able to hold had they lived out their lives in full. Assassinating the perceived enemy doesn't achieve anything but giving the murderer a brief feeling of satisfaction, and public notoriety. It rarely, if ever, helps the assassin's cause.

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