|Richard D. Costelow Memorial Page | home|
|USS Cole DDG 67 | Testimony | Marriage Encounter | Awareness | Photos1 | Photos2 | Photos3 | Photos4 | Photos5 | Photos6 | Photos7 | President's Speech | Medals and Creed | More On Time | Navy Links | TIME | Poems and Inspirational Writings | COOL MUSIC LINKS!!! | --Type Title Here-- | Contact Us | Brady's Art | Ethan's Art | Dillon's Art | More Pictures of Rich | Recent Photos | The ERACE Foundation | My Speech to the "Chief's Mess." | USS Cole Memorial Dedication | Poll Page | ADOPT A SAILOR | Kathleen Kennedy Townsend Speech|
Robert F. Kennedy and the Essence of Moral Leadership
Remarks of Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend
November 11, 2000
This has just been an extraordinary, meaningful day for me and for all the members of my family. I think each of us is honored that so many of you would come and pay tribute to my father. And many people came from all around the country. I met individuals from California, from Oregon, from Iowa, and, happily, from Maryland. I was particularly pleased about that group.
So many people here really are very special to me. After my father died, many of you would sit down with me and tell me stories about my father, so I got to learn to know him better and to appreciate him even more. And I've always been very grateful for that, the time you spent with me. And how I want to make sure each of you knows my gratitude and I thank you once again. A couple of years ago, on the 30th anniversary of my father's presidential campaign, I wrote an article for the Washington Post about my father's legacy. It was called "The Campaign that Never Ended." It now seems that's a title I'll have to share. So I'd like to officially rename that article, "A Campaign that Never Ended."
I'm very grateful for this opportunity to speak about my father's legacy with so many friends that have kept his legacy alive. Scarcely a day goes by without somebody coming over to tell me how they had worked in that '68 campaign, or the '64 campaign, or that how my father's example or inspiration had changed their life. It really is an extraordinary tribute. And it gives me hope that his ideals and his work will continue.
I'd like to focus on just one aspect of my father's legacy that often gets overlooked: his faith. I believe that much of the reason that my father's work resonated with so many can be drawn back to his spiritual convictions and how they shaped his passion for his pursuit of justice. Religion was a very big part of our life. Like a lot of families, we said prayers before and after every meal. We went to Mass every Sunday, and when my mother had her way, we went to Mass every day. Every night we prayed the Rosary and read a chapter of the Bible. And in fact, when I told my grandmother that we read the Bible, she was horrified. She said Catholics didn't read the Bible. Priests did that.
But my father's was not just a private faith. It wasn't confined to church on Sunday or even just questioning how we should conduct our lives. There was a profound link between my father's religious principles and his political principles. He saw a spiritual grounding to our lives. That offered him a sharp lens through which he viewed the nation and the world and gave him a sense of urgency and passion with which he approached the political realm.
This understanding was strongly effected in the words that he used. He spoke to Americans and connected them through the shared language of faith. It's a language that recognizes right and wrong, the higher aspirations of the soul, and our unbreakable connection to one another as children of God. He saw politics as a way in which he could fill the charge set forth by President Kennedy in the 1960 inaugural address. "To lead the land we love, asking His Blessings and His help, but knowing that here on earth, God's work must truly be our own."
I believe that my father's faith drove his work in two important ways. First, it dramatically sharpened his sense of justice. My father believed that we are children of the same God, created in his image. What that meant to him was that each of us contained a piece of the divine and therefore the potential for greatness. With that potential, we have an obligation to raise ourselves up, to live not basely like animals, but nobly and justly in a manner befitting God's blessing.
And so it outraged my father when he saw powerful forces placing obstacles in the ways of others. Didn't matter if it was oil companies in South America, or racist institutions in the America South, or an indifference of the evils of poverty. To him, each represented a clear threat for people's ability to fulfill our God-given gifts. No one person had more right to that ability than anyone else.
He emphasized this for my brothers and sisters and myself in very personal ways at our earliest ages. I remember one day we were driving through the streets of Washington, D.C., and we were going block after block. And my father said, "Look. There are no playgrounds. There's no place for kids to play. There's no place for them to go. They're just like you. They have the same wants and needs, and yet they have no place to go." When he saw the problem there was no playground, rather than wait for a law to pass, or to get a grant from a governing institution, he raised the money and built the playground. And I remember the day that we finally went there for the opening of the playground. He said, "Now children can play, just like you. They have the same needs and the same desires."
The conviction, of course, extended beyond playgrounds. It was the foundation for his work for freedom and quality and social justice here in America and throughout the world. In South Africa in 1966, speaking at the University of Capetown, he said, "We must recognize the whole human equality of all our people before God, before the law, before the counsels of government. We must do this not because it is economically advantageous, although it is. Not because the laws of God command it, although they do. Not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do."
Second, his faith offered him a moral perspective that enabled him to focus on the big questions. How do we solve the injustice of poverty? How do we make our country more just and more equitable for everyone? What is our obligation to our fellow citizens? These are enduring questions. They were asked by our forefathers in the creation of our country, and they will be asked by our great-grandchildren when they take up the task of renewing American democracy for a fourth century.
But even more than American questions, they're essentially human questions. Listen to his words in 1968 talking about welfare reform, which can be a rather arcane subject. He drew it back to the basic, existential question. "Human beings need a purpose. We need it as individuals. We need to sense it in our fellow citizens. And we need it as a society, as a people. We are born. We live. We die. There's only a moment that we are here, and the mystery and ambiguity of life is all around us. As children grow, they start to bombard us with questions and we try to answer. 'Why do people kill one another?' 'Why do we live this way and other children live differently?' 'Why do we say one thing outside the house and another thing when we're alone?'
In the last analysis, we cannot feel good about ourselves if we have learned to shut out or distance others. To live peacefully and respectfully with each other, we need a certain kind of moral order, a certain kind of social and political order. That will be a nation we will be proud to have built for all of us. His was a politics that sought not just to manage the day to day operations of a country, but in a real sense aimed to find a way for people to lead lives of purpose and meaning in the face of life's mystery and ambiguity. To create a country that truly reflected our best selves and our highest aspirations.
Compare that to the politics of today, which too often trivializes that which is important and magnifies that which is trivial. We don't have to look any further than this year's presidential election which seemed to hinge solely on how, not whether, mind you, but how we should deliver prescription drugs to our senior citizens. Now, it is an important question, to be sure, and Vice President Gore's proposals are worthy. But why weren't we talking about how to insure every American access to health care? Millions of young people are growing up today believing violence is a useful tool in their lives. Where was the discussion on how to make our neighborhoods safe?
Where was the call for Americans to serve in the Peace Corps or Americorps? Where was the talk of our responsibility to the nation? Are our imaginations so impoverished that we can no longer dream big dreams together? We can't pin all the blame on the candidates. I know very well in campaigns you don't always end up talking about the things that you want to. And certainly in the midst of historically good times, people are not seeking answers in the same way they were in the grave days of 1968. But then and now Americans look to their leaders, not merely to create and distribute new benefits, but to offer clarity in a muddled world. To shape a nation in which people have an opportunity to come together with their fellow citizens and to contribute something meaningful.
There is a question about the degree to which we Democrats are able to link our religious and moral convictions to our political convictions. The Christian Right, in fact, does that quite well. The left, I am afraid, does not. And yet there is a nation wide hunger for purpose and for meaning. The best seller lists are filled with slim volumes offering easy answers. I think of "Chicken Soup for the Soul," or the books of M. Scott Peck, or Deepak Chopra, or "Tuesdays with Maury."
But for those of us who believe that politics has an obligation to reflect our most cherished values, the life of Robert Kennedy offers an example of how we can connect the values of faith and progressivism. When he returned home from South Africa, he wrote an article attacking the legal institutions of racism, both at home and abroad. He titled it, "What if God is Black?" Benjamin Disraeli once said that duty cannot exist without faith. In Robert Kennedy, faith and duty met. In the final analysis, I think that my father's enduring legacy is that through the imperatives of belief, he challenged our nation to live up to its duty, to be its very best. To remember people that wish to forget, to face up to the challenges it would rather let lie, to dream dreams so big that it took all of us working together to make them real.
As I see it, the meaning of the nation's lasting embrace of my father is that it does in fact hunger for a challenge. It wants to be called to serve, to contribute something to history. It is a lesson that is especially important today as we wait patiently for a new President, but carry impatient hopes for leadership that draws out the best of our country. It will be difficult. My father's example shows how hard it is for a leader to break with the old ways of thinking and present a clear, new, moral and political vision. It's not easy to keep faith, and it takes courage and vision to perceive our connection to one another.
But that is precisely why we need national leadership, to focus the direction of our country, to elevate the yearnings and aspirations of our nation. We tend to think in smaller slices these days. We talk about business leaders and local leaders and state leaders. Each has a discreet constituency and a self-contained agenda. But in the face of the disintegrative powers of the information age, we need to reaffirm the power of a unifying force, the power of national leadership, the power that my father exemplified. I believe our nation is ready to be challenged again.
So let me conclude with some words from my father that seem particularly relevant this year.
"What we need is a better liberalism and a better conservatism. We need a liberalism in its wish to do good, yet knows that the answers to all problems is not money. Money can't buy dignity, self-respect, or fellow feeling among citizens. We need a conservatism and its wish to preserve the enduring values of the American society but that recognizes the urgent need to bring opportunity to all citizens. That is the willingness to take action, to meet the needs of the future."
"What the new politics is, in the last analysis, is a reaffirmation of the best within the great political traditions of our nation. Compassion for those who suffer, determination to right the wrongs in our nation, and a willingness to think and act anew, free from old concepts and old illusions. That's the kind of politics, that's the kind of leadership that the American people want."
God bless you.
(End of Speech)