July 04, 2008

The Death of a Patriot

As I groggily crawled from bed, springing Rolan from his crib, and took up camp in the living room, I noticed Bobby was the television. I've been meaning to watch the 2006 historical film about the last day of Bobby Kennedy's life and those who were there at the Ambassador Hotel at that terrible intersection of American history. Just before the movie was released two years ago, I caught an interview with Emilio Estevez, who wrote, directed and played in it. As he spoke not just of his passion for this project, but also the place deep within him that it rooted from, I was seeded with more desire than I already would've been to see it. Bobby Kennedy was murdered 12 years before I was born, but for reasons I may never understand, I've always felt drawn to him and his brother.
So when I saw the movie had just started and then I realized that this is the Fourth of July, I thought it would be a great way to celebrate the freedom of our nation.
Bobby was the truest of patriots and, in one of the most tumultuous times in our country's span, labored to unite a people deeply divided. Even though his big brother Jack's life had violently been snuffed out prematurely in a motorcade, Bobby resisted the constant concerns of his advisers because he longed to be close to the people. Those close to him remember that Bobby often worried out loud that there would be a day that when someone referenced the Kennedy assassination, they would have to specify which one. But, in spite of that knowledge that he was exposing himself to a generous lot of danger, he fought forward for the welfare of our nation. Sadly, that grim prediction came true, not five years after his brother's death.
If Bobby hadn't been murdered, whether or not he would have won in the White House in 1968, our country's history would have been different. As I watched Bobby this morning, that thought really resonated with me. With a famous RFK speech about unity and love and resisting violence played over still images of the moments after his shooting, the solid fact that this ended not just his life, but his movement waved over me. And then I realized that six months after Bobby died, Richard Nixon was elected to the United States Presidency.
Nixon, as it is, was a total disaster. The only reason we have a FISA court in the first place was because Nixon had to be put in check. He illegally used his influenced AND the long arm of the US government to destroy those unlucky people on his enemies list. Now, you might think those he scribbled down on old paper and then carried around in his lapel pocket were some liberal political masterminds or adversaries in the Congress who blocked his legislation. Well, you would be wrong? Who was on Nixon's enemies list, you ask? Let me tell you, Tricky Dick wasn't scared to hold ridicules grudges. He put folks like the actor Paul Newman. Paul, you see, had been in one of George McGovern's political ads and, when asked during polling, voters sited it as effective. Nixon knew Paul would definitely campaign for Ed Muskie in 1972, so he sicked the IRS and other government agencies on him. He did this with the others on the list as well. He hoped that, even with unfounded charges and claims, they would have to pay frivolous attorney's fees to defend themselves, thus tying up extra funds for political donations, and their reputations would be so damaged by the fraudulent allegations that the American public would see them as a eyesore on their perfect American dream.
Now, Nixon was a crazy asshole, as crazy as they make 'em, but I'm sure he got some help cooking up this insane theories and notions. I mean, it's not like he presided over a calm time. Not only was Vietnam still in full swing, but our relations with Russia were souring, the oil fallout from OPEC's reaction to the Yom Kippur War was sending our economy into a oil-starved tailspin (sound familiar?) and omens of our future conflicts within the Middle East were appearing. He helped in overthrowing the government of Chile. He had plenty of shit to do, but he was sitting around comprising an enemies list of entertainers and reporters. His vice president Spiro Agnew had to resign because of allegations of bribery, tax evasion and money laundering. And who could forget Watergate? I mean, Lynyrd Sknyrd did sing in that song that it didn't bother them, but it certainly seemed to rile up a whole lot of folks aside from them.
The reason I bring this up is because so few people realize how Nixon's administration, more than any other including Reagan or Bush I, influenced the current one. After all, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfield both served as Nixon's Chief-of-Staff. They already knew how to stonewall Congress on wide-spread wiretapping because they'd help Dick do it when he was all paranoid about pot-smoking hippies.
There's no way of knowing if Bobby hadn't been shot by Sirhan Sirhan, if he would have won the election in 1968. His big brother Jack had already kicked Nixon's ass when they went toe to toe in the presidential election of 1960 and I fully believe it would have been a repeat had Bobby been able to get his hands on him. We wouldn't have spent 7 more years in Vietnam. I know we quit actually drafting troops in 1972, but we didn't pull out until 1975. Because of Bobby's positive influence with minorities, I think we would have had a more productive healing period in the 1970s. The country wouldn't have to endure the global embarrassment that was Watergate.
And, there is a good chance that two future politicians, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfield wouldn't have been stream-lined to the top. They are both dangerously ambitious men, so most assuredly they would've mucked up plenty without Nixon's pump to the top, but I don't think they would have been as powerful.
Many tragedies spawned from Bobby's untimely death, but I think most thought they were buried along with him back in the 60s. That's just not the case. We would live in a different country and a different world had Bobby not died when he did. Just look to Iraq to see the greater fallout. Rumsfield, a draft dodger, and Cheney, or "Five Deferment Dick," as I like to call him, didn't have to go to Vietnam, but they certainly didn't mind sending young kids into Iraq. Even though several Pentagon officials advised against it, they sent them without a plan. They sent them without enough money because they thought the public's support would be soured if they knew they gave the estimate defense experts expected. And now no one knows what to do because all the answers seem bad.
I hope you are all having a great Fourth of July. If you see a veteran, thank him or her for their service. After all, they and the Constitution they swear to defend is what gives me the freedom to pen my thoughts on Robert Francis Kennedy. On this holiday of our independence, I want to leave you with one of his quotes. It is one of my favorites.

“Each time a man stands for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends 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.”

Oh, and for God's sake, don't pop the Black Cats.

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