Friday, December 08, 2006


I saw this movie tonight. And unlike many critics, I liked it a lot. Basically, the movie tracks a bevy of characters in and around the Ambassador hotel on the day Bobby Kennedy won the primary, presaging his assassination that very night. In itself, this worked moderately well. But what gives the movie its power is the scene when Bobby is shot. Throughout the film, we are presented with snippets of the man and his message. As he lies on the floor of the hotel kitchen, surrounded by complete chaos, we hear some of his most soaring rhetoric. And what rhetoric it is. He talks about the futility of hatred and division. Of how violence is never the answer, no matter how tempting. Of how compassion must be our primary concern. And how we are all part of a community, connected to a greater whole. It was beautiful and poignant and uplifting. And then it dawned on me: the movie was presenting snapshots of the interconnected human community as it existed on that day and in that place in 1968, all brought together by the terrible events of that day, and thereby imbuing Bobby's words with a tragic dimension.

An aura of sadness and loss hangs over the movie, as we know the author of these majestic words is dead, and that his noble vision ends with him. I did not live through this era, as I was only born two years after Bobby's assassination. Would Kennedy have been a good president? There is no answer to this question. Perhaps his idealism would have hit cold hard reality, in Vietnam, in the coming global recession, in countless other challenges. But we will never know. All we know is that it all went downhill in America from that June night in 1968, culminating in the presidency George W. Bush, who in many ways is the anti-Kennedy. While Bobby spoke of bringing peace, Bush brought war. While Kennedy talked about compassion from heartfelt belief, Bush talked about compassion to earn votes and then chose instead to reward the wealthy and especially his cronies. While Bobby's rhetoric was noble and inspiring, Bush speaks in monosyllabic sound bites. And while Bobby was guided by his idealism, Bush offers only cynicism and petulence.

But this goes way beyond Bush. No public figure speaks like that anymore, with the possible exception of Barack Obama. Of course, Bobby's belief sprung from his heartfelt Catholic faith. He is a reminder of what Catholic public figures were like before the advent of people like Rick Santorum, Bill Donohue, George Weigel, and Deal Hudson. This was a time when Catholic politicians clung to the entire Catholic social theory, not only the parts favored by the Republican party, or evangelical allies.

So, go and watch this movie. Let Kennedy's words, uttered in 1968, offer meaning in the current climate in 2006. Shed a tear for what was lost. And hope for what may come.

1 comment:

shadhu said...

I was also moved by the speech deeply. How one longs for a voice of such deep compassion. Here's the transcript:

The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one - no matter where he lives or what he does - can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by an assassin's bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason.

Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

"Among free men," said Abraham Lincoln, "there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs."

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.