RFK and Obama


A reader writes:

Watching Senator Barack Obama on Meet the Press last Sunday, I suddenly understood how so many people felt about Robert Kennedy in 1967 and 1968.  Here is an enormously talented political figure with the capacity to inspire Americans and remind us of why America is the world's hope. Yet Obama, like Robert Kennedy in 1968, is a freshman senator for whom convention wisdom holds that a presidential run should be another cycle away.  Many of Robert Kennedy's advisors pleaded for him to wait until 1972, when the field would be clear for him.  I have no doubt that Sen. Obama has advisors today who are counseling him to wait until 2012, by which time the Democratic party will be cleared of Clintons seeking the presidency (assuming, of course, that Hilary runs and loses in 2008).

Robert Kennedy died before I was born, but he is my political hero because of his capacity for growth, because of his idealism, because of his toughness, and not the least because he chose to run for the presidency when it was difficult rather than preordained.  He heeded the call to run at a time when our country was mired in an ill-conceived and and badly executed war.  He ran for the nomination against a titan of the party (Hubert Humphrey) who had long been beloved by liberal party stalwarts but whose popularity had waned among among these activists (in Humphrey's case, because of his service as LBJ's vice-president).  RFK declared his candidacy at a time when Americans had come to distrust the words of the occupant of the Oval Office.  And when Kennedy finally decided to run for the presidency, he chose to appeal to the better angels of America's nature.

Robert Kennedy famously quoted George Bernard Shaw: "Some men see things as they are and ask 'Why?'  I dream things that never were and ask 'Why not?'"

Today I find myself hoping that Barack Obama will think of running for the presidency and say to himself, "Why not?"

But Kennedy had been attorney-general, he had a record as an aide to McCarthy, he'd been intimately involved in foreign policy in the Kennedy White House, and he'd been imbroiled in the civil rights movement for over five years. Obama has none of that experience. Not that I'm opposed to him. But if there's one lesson I've learned these past few years is to be skeptical of potential leaders. I find Obama impressive. I have an open mind about him. But I want to know more - as I'm sure many others do as well.

(Photo: Scott Applewhite/AP.)