I was lucky enough to make a pilgrimage to the graves of the 3 Kennedy brothers at Arlington today. As is common knowledge, the JFK gravesite features the eternal flame. It also features excerpts from his Inaugural Address. As is, I suspect, less well-known, RFK's gravesite has excerpts from 2 of his more famous public statements. It has the following excerpt from his 1966 South Africa speech:
It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice. He sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.
There is also the following excerpt from his remarks in Indianapolis in the aftermath of the assassination of MLK:
Aeschylus...wrote, "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.' What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness; but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.There are no quotes of Edward Kennedy's at his site, and I am unaware of any plans to add any. The RFK quotes, however, remind us all of why we became Dems in the first place and what it should mean to be a Democrat today. There is a compelling lineage that our party has often lost sight of since the ascendancy of the DLC in the 80's, and there is a desperate need to recall that lineage now.
For better or for worse, the Dems dominated American politics from 1932-68. It wasn't merely controlling the WH for 28 years and generally dominating Congress during that era. It was that they dominated the policy agenda as well. The one GOP president from that era once wrote:
Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.In that era, Dems enacted SS and Medicare. They passed the Wagner Act, the GI Bill, farm programs, wage and hour legislation, and a graduated income tax system to help pay for it. They consciously chose to reduce the vast inequalities that helped create the Great Depression, and, to a large extent, they succeeded. They helped create mass prosperity the likes of which this country has never seen while encouraging a national sense of purpose beyond the mere accumulation of personal wealth. Whether it was defeating fascism, going to the moon, or creating a more just society at home, the Dems at least tried to make us a better society and a better people.
Yes, the party largely failed on civil rights for most of that era. Eventually, however, the Dems passed the public accomodations act, the voting rights act, and other vital legislation after a wrenching intraparty struggle. They did so knowing that they would pay a dear political price. LBJ presciently predicted to Bill Moyers that the party had likely lost the South for years to come.
In that era, the passage of Taft-Hartley (which restricted labor power) was, arguably, the GOP's primary legislative accomplishment. They also gave us isolationism before WW II and witch hunts for purported Communists after it. The country was very fortunate that they generally remained in the minority in that era.
What has happened since the end of Dem dominance shows just how fortunate the country had previously been. Starting in 1969, the GOP gave us Watergate, Iran/Contra, the collapse of the S&L's, massive increases in inequality, pre-emptive war, economic meltdown, and a whole host of other evils. The "tiny splinter group" of which Eisenhower spoke came to throughly define 1 of our 2 major parties, and that party, sadly, has not met the end which he predicted.
Like the party that they so proudly represented, the Kennedys had their flaws. They aspired, however, to things that are utterly unfathomable to the opposing party. I will never visit Reagan's gravesite, and I don't care to know what quotes of his are inscribed there. "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem" would probably suffice. When Mitt Romney leaves this mortal coil, I suggest that a reference to the 47% be placed at his gravesite.
There were major differences between the parties then, and there should be even greater differences now. The GOP always has been and always will be the enemy of those things that we hold dear. The problem w/ the city in which I am spending tonight is not a lack of goodwill or an inability to "reach across the aisle" in the interests of the utter chimera of "bipartisanship." The problem is w/ a party of nihilists that has not had a good original idea in decades.
Analyses of our current crisis that speak of "both sides" consciously miss the central point. One side's main failing lies in its willingness to abandon its core principles. The other side's main failing lies in its core "principles" themselves.
Next time a Dem wants to chain CPI, increase the Medicare eligibility age, vote against cloture on a watered down gun bill, or take any other similar profile in cowardice, he/she really ought to make a quick trip over to Arlington and visit w/ the ghosts of Dems past.