Tag Archives: RFK

AOC has joined FDR, LBJ, JFK, MLK and RFK

I once thought references to political and civic leaders’ by their initials denoted a recognition of their greatness, of their longstanding contribution to American discourse, debate and our way of life.

Social media now have cheapened that designation. A 29-year-old freshman member of the U.S. House of Representatives, one of 435 members, now has been “elevated” to this iconic status.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is now known as AOC.

AOC says this, AOC does that, AOC proclaims such and such, AOC makes her presence felt. 

I keep hearing and reading this kind of reference in mainstream media. I’ll be candid: It annoys me.

I’m an old-school kind of guy. I prefer to require political figures to earn their spurs before they become media darlings. Members of Congress do not always deserve the recognition that has been bestowed to the rookie Democratic lawmaker from New York City. Thus, neither does Rep. Ocasio-Cortez.

This is likely to be the last comment I’ll make on this particular irksome notion. So I’ll just get it off my chest now and then be done with it. I won’t tune out what this young woman has to say. I’ll comment from time to time. I am going to resist using the initials while referring to her.

She hasn’t earned her spurs. At least not yet. Maybe she will over time. For the foreseeable future, I’ll refer to her by her full name and remind readers of this blog that she’s an untested freshman lawmaker who — it is becoming evident to me — looks as though she intends to seek higher political offices.

‘AOC’ makes an immediate impression

There once was a time when rookie members of Congress languished in the shadows. They weren’t to be taken seriously by their colleagues. They weren’t to be held up for praise by their friends or condemnation by their critics.

They needed to learn the location of the restrooms on Capitol Hill. Then they could be taken seriously, or so it used to go.

Then came social media. Rookie members of Congress are able to become immediate superstars.

One of them has rocketed to the top of the public relations totem pole. Her name is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a newly minted Democrat from New York City.

She is so famous, in fact, that she now is being referred to as “AOC.” Yep, she’s up there with JFK, RFK, MLK, LBJ, FDR. This young woman, all of 29 years of age, has held public office for less than one whole month.

Here she is. She is the talk of D.C. She is in huge demand on TV and radio talk shows. She is a self-proclaimed socialist. She wants to tax the wealthy, redistribute wealth around the country; she favors Medicare for All and single-payer health insurance.

Why do you suppose she commands all the attention? Forgive me for mentioning this, but AOC is, shall we say, quite “telegenic,” which is a politically correct way of alluding to her physical attractiveness. Yes, she is well-educated and speaks well, too.

I am inclined — given my own political leaning — to listen to what she has to say. However, I am in serious head-scratching mode about AOC. How in the name of political seniority does a rookie member of Congress such as this one command everyone’s attention?

She has angered not just Republicans but also “establishment” Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is thought to be miffed that she occasionally challenges the elders within the Democratic Party.

Her faces shows up as a social media meme. I get these posts on my Facebook news feed from conservative friends who delight in ridiculing her occasional misstatements.

She is one of 435 members of the House of Representatives. I don’t believe she represents a serious threat to establishment politicians of both parties . . . at least not yet. She needs some serious seasoning. AOC needs to get a firmer grasp on how the system works on Capitol Hill.

I am just puzzled at how this young politician has thrust herself onto the center of a large and crowded political stage.

Still miss the wisdom that RFK brought

I cannot help but feel wistful — and sad to this day — when I watch videos of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Indeed, it is the coarseness of today’s debate that makes wish we had another RFK on the horizon, waiting to grab our attention, speak to our better angels, prod us to think beyond our own self-interest.

This video comes from a 1967 interview that Bobby Kennedy had with “Face the Nation” questioners. His answers were full, complete and yes, a bit wordy at times. He spoke about the Vietnam War, which was Topic No. 1 on all the TV news talk shows in that era.

RFK waffled during this interview about whether he would be a candidate for president in 1968. He straddled the fence until the moment in the New Hampshire Democratic primary when Sen. Eugene McCarthy came shockingly close to upsetting President Johnson.

In came Bobby Kennedy. His campaign launched and in March 1968, LBJ shocked the nation by declaring he would “not seek” nor would he “accept my party’s nomination for another term as your president.”

I want to hear RFK’s wisdom again. Today’s political debate has devolved into insults, innuendo and an utter lack of compassion, particularly when it comes from the White House. I always have thought we are better than that. We deserve better than what we’re hearing in this era.

Then I look back at 1968, a terrible year for this country. The Vietnam War was killing hundreds of Americans each week. RFK sought an end to a conflict in which he — as attorney general during his brother’s administration — was a key architect.

RFK spoke to us at a level we haven’t heard since his death in June 1968 at the hands of an assassin. He told us stark, brutal truth about the bitterness and division that tore at our nation.

RFK had the “it” factor that is difficult to define. It is missing throughout the ranks of those who might seek to become the next president. It most certainly is nowhere to be found anywhere near the individual who currently holds that office.

It’s been more than 50 years since Robert Kennedy left this good Earth. I miss him every day. I miss him especially when I have to swallow today’s toxic mess that comprises political debate.

Is U.N. ambassadorship a training position?

Welcome to the real big leagues, Heather Nauert.

Donald Trump wants the former Fox News correspondent and morning talk-show co-host to lead the U.S. diplomatic effort in the United Nations. I am left to wonder if the president values the U.N. as much as his national security adviser, John Bolton, does. It was Bolton who (in)famously said you could remove the top 10 floors from the U.N. Building in New York and not lose a thing. Then he became the U.S. ambassador to the world body.

Nauert brings far less foreign policy experience to this most delicate of posts. She did serve as State Department spokeswoman for a year after leaving Fox News.

You know, I actually thought that Nauert wasn’t the first rookie to take this job. My thoughts turned to the late John Scali, the former ABC News correspondent who was U.N. ambassador from 1973 to 1975. However, a quick check of Scali’s record showed something quite revealing.

He helped mediate an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 while working for ABC, carrying messages from President Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy to the Soviet embassy, warning them of the dire peril they were putting the world in by installing offensive missiles in Cuba. Scali then left ABC to work for the Nixon administration as a foreign policy adviser before becoming U.N. ambassador in 1973.

Thus, Scali had experience.

Nauert does not. In a way, though, she more or less mirrors the experience level of the man who nominated her. Donald Trump brought zero government or public service experience to the presidency when he got elected.

And it shows.

I fear the absence of any foreign policy chops is going to show itself yet again at the United Nations. Heaven help us.

1968: It ended with profound discovery

Those of us of a certain age and older remember 1968.

As we were living through it many of us wondered if we could survive, literally, and wondered if the nation could endure the tumult that tore at its soul.

The year began with that terrible Tet Offensive in Vietnam, where we were fighting a war that killed thousands of American service personnel that year. Two iconic figures, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, died at the hands of assassins. The Democratic Party nominated a presidential candidate while thousands of people rioted in the streets outside.

Then in December of that terrible year, three men launched from Earth toward the moon, produced the image I have posted on this blog. They read from the Book of Genesis while orbiting the moon’s surface.

These men — Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders — reminded us of the fragility of our existence and produced a never-before-seen image of our “good Earth,” as Apollo astronaut mission commander Borman described it in his Christmas message back home.

The Apollo 8 moon mission was more than just a competitive event between the United States and the Soviet Union. President Kennedy in 1961 had declared that we should “send a man to the moon and return him safely to the Earth” before the end of the 1960s. We would accomplish that mission in 1969, beating the Soviets in that race to the moon.

Before that, though, we had to send a space ship to the moon to orbit it and to return. Little could we have foreseen the symbolism embodied in that mission at the end of a terrible, tumultuous year.

It could not have ended more perfectly than it did just before Christmas 1968. It could not have been a more apt remedy to help restore some semblance of hope in the face of the mayhem that gripped the nation and the world.

The mission was, shall we say, one for the ages.

Those three men saw fit to read from the Holy Bible about God’s creation of the universe. The words from Genesis served to remind us that the Almighty was looking after us.

The year began and progressed through storm after storm.It ended with the image flashed around the world for the first time ever of Earth rising in the black sky all by itself.

It is our home. Turmoil and all.

Time of My Life, Part 2: In the presence of greatness

I once belonged to an organization called the National Conference of Editorial Writers. The group occasionally sponsored remarkable overseas trips to members, editorial writers and editors such as yours truly.

In the summer of 2004, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the International Conference on HIV/AIDS in Bangkok, Thailand. It was my second trip to Southeast Asia with NCEW; the first one was in 1989, and I am likely to tell about that journey at another time.

This installment wants to focus on my being in the same room with one of history’s towering giants.

The AIDS conference focused on the disease that ravages so many millions of human beings. Our journey was aimed at studying the impact of the disease on Asia; in Thailand, Cambodia and India.

But there was a side story to cover as well. Tuberculosis is another killer, communicable disease that afflicted this great man: I refer to Nelson Mandela.

The former South African president came to Bangkok to tell attendees that TB needs the world’s attention, too.

Mandela staged a press availability in a room full of attendees, including our NCEW delegation. I stood about 30 feet from the microphone where Mandela would stand and speak.

He contracted TB during his imprisonment on Robben Island, where he was held prisoner for 27 years before his release in 1990. He had the temerity to protest against South Africa’s apartheid policies; the government threw him in the slammer because he demanded human rights for all of his country’s citizens, not just the white minority that ran everything.

By 2004, Mandela’s place in world history had been established. He stood as a giant among giants. To see this man in person was one of the thrills of my life as a working journalist.

I remember seeing him walk into the room and I was struck by something that was said about Robert Kennedy, which was that when RFK walked into a room, everyone else turned to black-and-white, while Bobby stood in magnificent color.

You could say the same thing about Nelson Mandela.

The great man told us about TB, his struggle to overcome it and urged the HIV/AIDS conference attendees to look for cures to TB. He took a couple of questions and then left.

We were instructed before Mandela came into the room to avoid flash photography, as he had developed acute sensitivity to bright lights during all those years he was kept in the dark on Robben Island. And, to no one’s surprise, some nimrods in the crowd took pictures with blinding flashes of light.

I didn’t get to speak to the great man. I don’t even know what in the name of star-struck wonder I would have said to him.

To be totally candid, just being able to see this man in the flesh was enough of a thrill to last my entire lifetime.

GHWB rides the train to his eternal rest

George Herbert Walker Bush rode the train today to his final resting place. The services are over. The 41st president, who the nation has honored with glorious tributes to his service to the nation he loved, will join his wife Barbara and their young daughter.

The train ride today reminds me of an earlier such farewell to another iconic figure, a representative of yet another iconic American political family.

The late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy rode the train for his final ride from New York City to Arlington, Va., where he was laid to rest eternally next to his brother, the slain President John F. Kennedy. That was June 1968. The nation was stunned and shocked beyond belief that an assassin would strike another member of the Kennedy clan. He did.

Thousands upon thousands of mourners lined the track on which RFK’s burial train rode south from NYC to Arlington National Cemetery.

Thousands of mourners are saluting the late President Bush today as the train carries him to his final rest at the Bush Presidential Library. They are lining the tracks for the 70-mile ride from Houston, where the president was memorialized one final time at the church where he and Barbara worshiped, to College Station. Then, as now, Americans stood at attention, hands over their hearts as the train passed by.

The nation never will forget the accomplishments of this good man, patriot and lifelong public servant, just as it won’t forget the ideals espoused by the slain senator who sought to become president.

It fills my heart to know he is getting this level of respect and love from the nation 50 years after Americans paid their final respects to a man named Bobby.

Happy 93rd birthday, RFK

Robert F. Kennedy would have turned 93 today.

The late U.S. attorney general and U.S. senator from New York died 50 years ago at the hands of an assassin who shot him in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen after Bobby Kennedy had just won the California Democratic Party presidential primary.

He was 42 years of age when he died.

I have grieved ever since over that loss.

RFK was my first political hero, although I don’t like using the h-word when talking about politicians. They aren’t heroic figures any more than athletes are heroes.

I did admire him greatly.

But to think on this day that a young, ambitious politician died at an age that is younger than the younger of my two sons fills me with an odd sense of my own mortality.

We need a politician like RFK among us today. We are a nation divided by race, by social status, by partisan politics. Bobby Kennedy sought to elevate us above the divisions that ravaged the nation when he sought the presidency in 1968, that most turbulent of years.

It was Bobby who climbed aboard that flatbed truck in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968 and informed the crowd of mostly black supporters that “Martin Luther King was shot and killed.” The crowd gasped in horror. RFK then went on to call for “love” and “compassion for one another.”

As other major U.S. cities erupted in violence that night, Indianapolis remained calm.

I don’t know whether Robert Francis Kennedy would have attained the highest office in America had death not taken him that night. My heart tells me there was a path to the Democratic nomination and to election. But … that must remain for others’ speculation.

The nation lost a champion for humanity five decades ago.

Today, though, I want to salute the fellow who entered this world 93 years ago today and embarked on a too-brief journey in a quest to heal the wounds that harmed us.

Happy birthday, Bobby. Many millions of us still miss you.

There actually was a time when we were more divided

These 50-year commemorations keep sneaking up on me.

One of them, Aug. 29, 1968, occurred in Grant Park, Chicago, during that year’s Democratic National Presidential Nominating Convention.

Democrats nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey to run against Republican nominee Richard Nixon. Humphrey lost the election narrowly to Nixon.

HHH’s political fate likely was sealed in Grant Park, when Chicago police applied brute force to put down a riot being staged by hippies, Yippies and assorted other anti-Vietnam War protesters. It was an ugly night of violence.

I was about a week into my own duty in the Army. I would head to Vietnam the following spring. But, oh, I do remember that political year. My first political hero, Sen. Robert Kennedy, was gunned down in the Los Angeles hotel kitchen after winning the California Democratic presidential primary. RFK’s death came two months and a day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.

I want to take particular note here to remind us that no matter how divided we are today, it could actually be worse. The Grant Park riot 50 years ago today tells me just how deep and wide the chasm can get.

I do fear that we might be headed in that direction five decades later. If we get there, then we’d all better prepare for the worst.

If LBJ could attend RFK’s funeral …

What makes the Donald Trump exclusion from John McCain’s funeral so very bizarre is that their hatred for each other barely rivals the open hostility felt between two other political giants that didn’t interfere one of them from paying tribute to the other.

President Lyndon Johnson hated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. The feeling was quite mutual. Yet when RFK was gunned down in Los Angeles in June 1968, LBJ found time to deliver a televised statement saluting Sen. Kennedy’s service to the country.

Then he took the time to attend RFK’s funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Sen. McCain made it clear he didn’t want the president to attend his funeral. It would be in the president’s best interests to heed the late, great American war hero’s desire.

The LBJ-RFK rift, though, and the fact that the president paid his respects to the late senator makes this latest statement of mistrust and disrespect so darn strange.