OP-ED: WE HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR BUT FEAR ITSELF
Here at the Draft Kennedy website, probably the most frequently asked question we get is (sadly): “if Robert F. Kennedy Jr. ran for president, would he be assassinated?”
While we make an effort not to dwell on the potential negatives, it is a reasonable question and should be addressed. Bear in mind this is only one blogger’s opinion, but I will try and tackle this most troubling of concerns and share my own philosophy about another Kennedy attempting a run for the presidency.
(Deep, heavy sigh) … Well, here goes:
The road to the White House is always dangerous. Even more so, it seems, if your last name is Kennedy.
But there’s a certain something I like to call “Kennedy courage.” It’s that one special gene in the family that makes them dash headfirst towards a challenge many of us would run away from. It is a mindset that places honor and country above personal interest, or even their own physical safety.
And yet, any time in the past 40 years when a Kennedy seeks political office, all of us can’t help but worry a little. After all, “they shoot Kennedys, don’t they?”
We won’t speculate as to how Bobby Kennedy Jr. feels about this. How much of a factor would it be in his decision to run or not to run – ah, that is the question, my dear Hamlet.
So soon after the assassination of his brother, many advised Bobby to be wary of close contact with crowds along the campaign trail. Notice the absence of Secret Servicemen and uniformed security guards. Here we see a smile on his face and warmth in his eyes. We do not see fear.
“AND IN THE TOTAL OF ALL THOSE ACTS WILL BE WRITTEN THE HISTORY OF THIS GENERATION” (RFK)
Perhaps we can glean some insight from examining his father’s words on the subject. Is this what RFK raised his children to believe?
“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.” (RFK)
Did Bobby and his brother Jack constantly live in fear of losing their lives?
“I thought they’d get one of us, but Jack, after all he’s been through, never worried about it. I thought it would be me.” (RFK)
So it seems RFK expected to be assassinated all along. Then why did he stick his neck out there and run for President?
“I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and I have such strong feelings about what must be done. And I feel obliged to do all that I can.” (RFK)
If RFK believed that he was going to be killed before achieving the presidency, what was the point of running at all?
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation… It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” (RFK)
NOW THAT’S COURAGE
What about Bobby’s uncle, President John F. Kennedy? His thoughts on the possibility of assassination:
“You know, last night would have been a hell of a night to assassinate a President…I mean it. There was the rain, and the night, and we were all being jostled…
But if somebody wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it. So, why worry about it?”
– John F. Kennedy to his wife on Nov. 22, 1963, just hours before his murder.
(Does this man look the least bit afraid to you? President Kennedy casually mingles with a crowd of thousands in Ft. Worth on the morning of his assassination.)
“A man does what he must-in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures-and that is the basis of all human morality.”
In other words…
“YOU HAVE TO BE WILLING TO DIE WITH YOUR BOOTS ON” – RFK JR.
In my mind, this is why both JFK and RFK died a hero’s death. Both knew the potential consequences of pushing the envelope, of challenging the powers that be, but they did it anyway. For the greater good. In hopes that these sacrifices would force change.
I’d like to see more politicians who exhibit that kind of courage today, and methinks Kennedy’s got it in spades. As he said in a 2006 interview with Brad Blog:
“I can only say that those of us who care about this country have to keep fighting, and whether you think you’re gonna win or lose, you gotta just keep slugging and you gotta be ready to die with your boots on, because that’s what our forefathers did. They started a revolution, and they put their fortunes and their lives at stake. And we need to summon the same kind of courage from our generation, and demand that kind of courage from our leadership.”
TO RUN OR NOT TO RUN…THAT IS THE QUESTION
We can’t speak to Mr. Kennedy’s political intentions, nor can we even begin to imagine how the tragedies in his family history add to the weight of such a decision. All we can really do is try our best to understand the mindset of someone who grew up a Kennedy, with all the public pressure, expectations of high achievement and fears of assassination constantly swirling around them. Most of this is naturally projected upon them by the public, naturally, and may not accurately reflect how the Kennedys themselves feel.
And that’s not even factoring in what it’s like to grow up fatherless. Or to lose your father in such a brutal and traumatic way. That’s a private matter for RFK Jr. We can have only a very limited understanding of what part the assassinations of his father and uncle must necessarily play in his own decision to run or not to run – and that is always the question!
Most of the people who frequent this blog and put their signatures on the “Kennedy for President” petition have already made their peace with the issue of potential assasination and don’t think it’s a risk. Naturally, we want him to run. And we are concerned for his family’s safety, too. They are always in our prayers.
You could put me in the camp who does not believe that assassination is a major risk factor. I think the days of assassinating presidential candidates, or even presidents, have passed. It hasn’t happened here since 1963, and I doubt it will happen again. Here’s why:
We must remember the political turbulence of those times (the 60s) and the issues which inflamed people… to march, to riot, to act violently, to even kill our leaders openly in public -at a political rally, on a hotel balcony, or at high noon on a crowded downtown street – no longer exist. We have a whole new set of problems now, and different ways of dealing with them.
Have you ever wondered why our most beloved and inspirational leaders were shot down and silenced, when by contrast, unpopular presidents since the Kennedy and King murders – Nixon, Ford, Bush 41 and Bush 43 (by far and without a doubt the most despised president in our nation’s history), have all survived their terms?
Assassinations are messy things. Too many witnesses. Zapruder films which capture the evidence. A chain of custody on evidence not so easily manipulated. Honest people who eventually come forward. Too many leaks. Conspiracies and coverups are very difficult to orchestrate and maintain. And it’s a really tough sell to the people. (Recent polls show that more than 90% of the American people do not believe the Warren Report to this very day! They also raise serious, valid, unanswered questions about the murders of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The recent murder of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan has also sparked rumors of conspiracy, regardless of what Musharraf’s government says. The folks aren’t buying it.)
THE NEW SCHOOL STYLE OF POLITICAL ASSASSINATION
For those who want to punish a political rival or even a president, they’ve found it is hardly necessary to kill them anymore. The cleaner method is to assassinate their character. Serves the same purpose, but no muss, no fuss!
Or at the presidential level, in the cases of Nixon and Clinton, to simply impeach. (And perhaps go for a nice character assassination while you’re at it.)
It’s also a new, improved method of getting rid of the challengers, the upstarts, the truthful, the good.
That’s why I worry for Bobby Kennedy, but I do not fear for him. He is a brave, strong man of great courage and if he should ever decide to run for the presidency, you can rest assured he will have considered the possibility of assassination and decided to charge into battle anyway.
PAY ANY PRICE, BEAR ANY BURDEN
Kennedy’s dilemma is not all that different from any regular fellow who joins the army as a volunteer. He certainly doesn’t have to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. Hell, he could just as easily stay home with his family and go to his day job. Maybe he has a great day job, one where he is already making a difference in the world. Is he a fool to leave it and go fight a war where he might be killed? Even a war that he disagrees with? With a wife and kids at home? Why would he do a thing like that? Is he crazy?
No. He doesn’t do it because he was drafted and has no other choice but to fight. He chooses to go, knowing well the risks for one reason: he loves his country and is willing to die for it if need be.
The road to the presidency is always a treacherous one (doubly so, I again concede, if your name is Kennedy), but with our country in such grave danger, this is not the time for Americans to be afraid.
If we let fear win out over hope and good men do nothing to stop this evil, the bad guys win. And We The People lose. Everything.
MANKIND IS OUR BUSINESS
There are some who say that Kennedy would be better off to just mind his own business, to get those lofty presidential ambitions out of his head. Some people say the Kennedys have already sacrificed enough for their country, that they should let somebody else do the work (and take the risks) now. But when the chips are down and America is in crisis, we always turn to the Kennedys and ask them to not only join us, but to lead us.
Why is it always thus? Why should the Kennedys be any better qualified than anybody else? Why do we instinctively put our trust in them? Because for generations, this family has made a demonstrated commitment to public service and the national interest. Not because anybody asked them to, not because they were expected to, but because they wanted to. Because they felt they had to.
Many have wondered why the wealthy, handsome, debonair young Jack Kennedy traded in the life of a millionaire playboy for a career in public service. At the time of his election in 1960, Kennedy was the wealthiest man ever to occupy that office; a president’s salary could hardly provide the lifestyle he had grown accustomed to as the son of one of America’s most successful businessmen. (Actually, JFK had donated his entire governmental salary to charity since first elected to the U.S. House in 1947. Robert Kennedy did the same, although these facts were successfully concealed from the public until late in JFK’s presidential term. In truth, the two donated much more than their salaries to charity each year.)
As millionaires many times over, the Kennedys could have just as easily kicked back and enjoyed the good life. So why did they choose to give so much and do far more than their fair share at such great cost and loss to themselves?
Because, as JFK said in November, 1963, just four days prior to his own assassination, “mankind is our business.”
“I realize that there are some businessmen who feel only they want to be left alone, that Government and politics are none of their affairs, that the balance sheet and profit rate of their own corporation are of more importance than the worldwide balance of power or the Nationwide rate of unemployment. But I hope it is not rushing the season to recall to you the passage from Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” in which Ebenezer Scrooge is terrified by the ghosts of his former partner, Jacob Marley, and Scrooge, appalled by Marley’s story of ceaseless wandering, cries out, “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.” And the ghost of Marley, his legs bound by a chain of ledger books and cash boxes, replied, “Business? Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
…Whether we work in the White House or the State House or in a house of industry or commerce, mankind is our business. And if we work in harmony, if we understand the problems of each other and the responsibilities that each of us bears, then surely the business of mankind will prosper. And your children and mine will move ahead in a securer world, and one in which there is opportunity for them all.“
— President Kennedy’s remarks to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Nov. 18, 1963, four days before his death. It is interesting to note that at the very moment this speech was delivered, another assassination plot was underway in Tampa and the Secret Service was on high alert.
SO WHAT’S THE SOLUTION – A HUMAN SHIELD?
Even the best Secret Service protection and all the precautions in the world cannot completely prevent an assassination. This history has taught us many times. So, what can we do to improve the security situation around RFK Jr. if he decides to run for President?
Obviously, all presidential candidates are entitled to Secret Service protection if they want it. And the very best private security firms would likely be engaged as additional bodyguards. But a few more ideas have been suggested by Kennedy’s supporters in the spirit of good ol’ citizen activism, and some of these notions are quite creative indeed.
One of the most popular is to organize thoroughly vetted and trusted volunteers who are willing to form a “human shield” around the candidate at every campaign stop. This would send out a powerful message to the world and anyone who might wish him harm: We’ve got Bobby’s back. This is one Kennedy you won’t be messing with — or you’ll be messing with all of us!
Others suggest that Kennedy should strap an AK-47 on his shoulder Rambo-style every time he leaves the house. That would certainly project quite a tough guy image at press conferences, eh? (Also guaranteed to ensure he wins each and every debate, hands down.)
And having Jesse Ventura as his Veep/Bodyguard wouldn’t hurt a bit, either. Surely the very notion of Ventura assuming the presidency would be enough to make anyone planning to assassinate Kennedy think twice. Ventura as VP might turn out to be the best life insurance policy RFK Jr. could ever have.
So with all these dangers and lone nuts lurking in the bushes, why on earth would we still ask Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to step forward and lead this generation of Americans?
“We meet tonight at a time of peril. Americans do not like to talk about peril. We do not want to admit that we could be in danger, that we have fallen behind, that we may be second best in some areas. There has always been something un-American or defeatist about suggesting that we could lose a war or lose our way of life. We have traditionally believed America to be invincible because America was right, because we have never lost a war, because we have always been successful in whatever we set out to do as a nation. Those who talk of peril here been alarmists, lacking faith in the superiority of our system – demagogues, handicapping our efforts by arousing fear or panic – malcontents, calling into question the wisdom of our methods and our leadership.
But tonight we meet at a time of peril – and it would be foolish to deny, or conceal the stark facts of our situation. There may still be some benefits in terms of avoiding panic and retaining confidence through continued reassurances and optimistic prophecies – but these benefits are outweighed, it seems to me, by the larger responsibility of democratic government to keep the people fully and frankly informed. Neither the “boy who cried wolf,” nor the “gentlemen (who) cry peace, peace – (when) there is no peace” can long serve in a government dependent upon the trust and faith of the general public, once the facts are out. The hard truths of our position, of our failures as well as our successes, our perils as well as our hopes, are inevitably going to come out – and I for one have full confidence in the ability of a free and fully informed people to face those facts with calm and courage.
We are in peril today – and by that I do not mean simply the danger to our lives and our fortunes, to our unscarred shores and our unsurrendered flag. For we could lose more than a war, more than our lives – we are in peril of losing our whole way of life, not only our nation’s peace and freedom but our own peace of mind and freedom to think, our cherished concepts of democratic government and individual liberty. And we could lose it all, all we hold dear, without a single shot being fired.”
— Senator John F. Kennedy’s speaking at the National Conference of Christians and Jews Dinner, Chicago, Illinois, December 3, 1957.
It is important to note that President Kennedy again repeated this sentiment on the day he died:
“In today’s world, freedom can be lost without a shot being fired, by ballots as well as bullets.”
– Remarks prepared for (but never delivered) the Dallas Trade Mart luncheon, Nov. 22, 1963
* Op-Ed copyright RFKin2008.com. All rights reserved.