Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated 40 years ago this week. America's liberal political movement hasn't really recovered since. There's finally some hope, though, as Sen. Barack Obama closes in on the Democratic presidential nomination.
Writer Lew Moores looks at the connections and disconnections between 1968 and 2008 in this week's cover story. To many, the parallels begin with Obama's and RFK's presidential candidacies.
Both men are/were first-term senators when they started campaigning for president. They represented adopted states, Kennedy a New York senator though he was from Boston and Obama an Illinois senator after he moved to Chicago to work.
Both are/were young, energetic and charismatic with electrifying smiles. Both made opposition to an unpopular war a centerpiece of their campaigns.
Kennedy jumped into the 1968 presidential race when it became apparent that President Lyndon Johnson, who had succeeded John Kennedy when RFK's brother was assassinated, would not run for re-election.
Even though the Kennedy brothers had sent the U.S. military into Vietnam in the early 1960s, a step that Johnson turned into a full war, RFK came to understand that the war was a huge mistake.
Obama's opposition to the Iraq War is much cleaner and clearer, as he spoke out against the Bush Administration's war plans from the very beginning. But getting out of Iraq is as central to Obama's candidacy as getting out of Vietnam was to Kennedy's.
It's easy to forget that Kennedy in 1968 was actually younger than Obama is today. He'd been Attorney General in his brother's administration, though he operated more as co-president. He'd served on various Congressional committees in the late 1950s, and he was elected senator in 1966.
Obama's age and "lack of experience" (eight years in the Illinois legislature and now four years as senator) are considered shortcomings that John McCain and the Republicans will hammer between now and November. The flip side of his resume, as with Kennedy, is the sense of freshness and hope a new generation of leaders can offer.
Voters in 2008 have the opportunity to elect the country's first African-American president, and the moment Obama takes the oath of office in January this country and the world will change forever.
Obama has brought a lot of new voters — particularly young people — into the election process throughout the primaries. Perhaps college students and young adults are finally getting engaged in politics again; Moores' story points out young voters were a powerful force in 1968 and were swarming to support Kennedy.
The University of Cincinnati issues diplomas to thousands next week. Xavier, other area colleges and local high schools held graduations recently. According to Moores' story, 1968 doesn't resonate with many of these new graduates.
They need to make their own history, and Obama offers a touchstone for this new generation. I hope CityBeat will be writing about his impact 40 years from now.
Contact John Fox: [email protected]