I became aware recently of some of the history of Robert Kennedy. Perhaps I am not alone in the fact that I was a teenager during his presidential campaign in 1968, also the year of his assassination, and in the fact that I did not realize how inspiring a figure he was to many, especially young people.
In our own time, in this period shortly before a hard-fought presidential campaign is decided by the November 4th vote, I think it is important to be reminded of the principles for which previous candidates, not only Robert Kennedy, have both spoken and fought for year after year over the decades and the centuries. We should hope that at every election we can choose at least one candidate whose thinking and actions reflect some of this vision and deep philosophical commitment, as appropriate to their own era.
The following words show Robert Kennedy's idealism, going beyond even what Barack Obama has offered in our time, when rhetoric is viewed with suspicion as the output of an educated person - as if that was a liability. These words, below, speak directly of the failings of our economic concepts and measurements in the Gross National Product (currently called the "Gross Domestic Product").
I hope to continue writing on a more regular basis about misconceptions in our values in this still-wealthy society, for example the simple misconception that greater wealth and financial security means greater happiness.
But read these eloquent words from Robert Kennedy, spoken at the University of Kansas in March, 1968. They are in my opinion a model for inspirational politics that is too rarely seen:
If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America. And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction, purpose and dignity, that afflicts us all.
Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.