The Way We Were

Senator Robert F. Kennedy shortly before his assassination

In sorting through personal files today, I came across an original program of the Mass for Courage and Reconciliation on the 25th anniversary of Bobby Kennedy’s death on June 6, 1968. It belonged to my wife’s aunt who attended the service. What I found most notable were the quotes from speeches he delivered that captured his patriotic view and vision for America.

The poignancy of RFK’s remarks is striking because the country we inhabit today is split asunder and growing forces — either ignorant or contemptuous of our Constitution, our fundamental freedoms, and our cherished national ideals — pose an imminent threat to our democracy and our future as a beacon of hope.

Read the following beliefs Kennedy held about America’s destiny to understand the dire straits in which we now find ourselves. As a martyr to democracy, his words were hopeful and prescriptive.

Leadership’s Responsibility to Promote the Common Good

“…the task of leadership…is not to condemn or castigate or deplore — it is to search out the reason for disillusionment and alienation, the rationale of protest and dissent — perhaps, indeed, to learn from it.”

I wonder: Is that what we’re experiencing today from a significant number of elected officials in Congress and in the states?


“…We can end the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society, between blacks and whites, between the poor and affluent…We can work together. We are a great country, an unselfish country, and a compassionate country.”

I wonder: Is that still true? Doesn’t seem more as if we have devolved into the Divided States of America with lack of tolerance for differences of opinion?


“…That which unites us is, must be, stronger than that which divides us. We can concentrate on what unites us, and secure the future for all of our children; or we can concentrate on what divides us, and fail our duty through argument and resentment and waste.”

I wonder: Division, distrust, disrespect characterize our society today. Is this the future we want for our children?

Responsive Government

“Everything that makes a person’s life worthwhile — family, work, education… depends on decisions of government; all can be swept away by a government which does not heed the demands of its people. Therefore the essential humanity of all people can be protected and preserved only where government must answer — not just to the wealthy; not just to those of a particular religion or a particular race; but to all its people. And even government by the consent of the governed…must be limited in its power to act against its people; so that there may be…no arbitrary imposition of pains and penalties by officials high or low…”

I wonder: Are we willing to settle for a fascist government to settle our differences for us by defying our Constitution and suspending our Bill of Rights?


“…I come to ask you to help in the task of national reconciliation: to place your energies and your time and your strength in the first work of America; the building of a nation…in the enduring faith that we are to be free…that the natural condition of humanity is not degradation but dignity. This is the faith that binds us together as Americans. It is the faith that shaped this nation; it is this faith that shall preserve us. From it we will find the best within ourselves and the best within our fellow citizens; and we shall win, at the end of our labors, a new America.”

I wonder: Have we lost all faith in decency, fairness, and the American Dream that will destroy the very fabric of our society for all time?

The stakes couldn’t be higher. All American patriots, therefore, have a responsibility to ponder these words of Robert Kennedy in light of where we find ourselves today as a country and as a society. Our future as a democracy depends on it.

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