Diane White-Crane: What would RFK do?

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— This week is the 44th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination. In his honor, I’d like to write about some important progressive lessons taught to me by my Christian faith and by the example given to me by my political hero, Robert F. Kennedy. As the Irish would say, I hope “to present a little bit o’ the other side of things.” 

As a Christian and an unabashed liberal, Bobby Kennedy believed strongly in the commands of Jesus given throughout the New Testament, that we are to be our brother and sister’s keeper, that we, as a country and as individuals, must make it a top priority to look out for the welfare of those who are unable to look out for their own needs — the poor, the disadvantaged, the sick, the mentally or physically disabled, the imprisoned, the dad or single mom out of work, the abused and people who are unfairly discriminated against because of their color, age, sex or any other human criteria.

Like his two brothers who also served in Congress and one as a U.S. president, Bobby Kennedy’s politics always supported the welfare of people first — their health, their housing, their schools and education, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties. They weren’t talking socialism, just basic fairness and a government that truly cares about the welfare and needs of all its citizens, not just the needs and desires of the wealthy, powerful and influential. This compassion and sense of fairness is our true strength as a nation, and this is what I think helps keep our nation blessed.

Although born into great family wealth himself, Bobby Kennedy thought that a healthy nation requires building and maintaining a strong middle class. He didn’t like or tolerate cheats or bullies of any kind. He believed in fairness in taxation so that everyone would share in the sacrifices according to their resources. He never let his family wealth distract him from championing the welfare of the working poor and of the middle class. He often said that his mother raised him to believe in the words of Jesus that it is far easier for a camel to pass through the head of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven. Thus, he said, his mother always taught her children that it was more important to live a meaningful life of service to others rather than spending their time trying to expand or protect their own personal wealth.

To Bobby Kennedy, “love thy neighbor as thyself” meant putting the welfare of others at least on the same level as self love, and not “I got mine, and let the losers go down the drain.” As the U.S. attorney general who fought for and championed early day civil rights in his own campaign for the presidency in 1968, Robert Kennedy always felt entirely safe campaigning in black neighborhoods after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. because Bobby Kennedy was their hero, too.

Although born to privilege, like all of his three brothers, Robert Kennedy volunteered ahead of the draft for military service for his country and sought no religious missionary deferments during wartime. And his personal knowledge of wartime tragedy — the loss of his brother Joe in World War II — helped frame his own decision to strongly oppose the Vietnam War. I vividly remember his intense anger at the “chicken hawk” politicians of the time, the ones who weren’t personally willing to serve their country in the military nor send their own healthy sons and daughters but always were happy and eager to send other people’s children off to be killed and maimed in some unnecessary war.

Were he alive today, I know Robert Kennedy would be livid by efforts to disenfranchise minorities, college kids and the elderly through voter suppression, denying anyone of the sacred right of our democracy of one man, one vote. And finally, I sadly fear that Robert Kennedy may be turning over in his grave over the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which now gives unidentified billionaires and corporations the ability to buy our elections and, thus, eventually our democracy itself. What would Jesus do, indeed?

North Routt County resident Diane White-Crane is a published author and a former staff member of then-Sen. Robert Kennedy.

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