The spring of 1968 was another hotly contested presidential election season. It was one that pitted Robert Kennedy against Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey. It was contentious in a country torn by an unpopular war and a long list of domestic problems. Yet it was also civil and respectful with candidates more focused on policies then personalities. It was the year and race that would commit me to a decade or more of public service in the world of electoral politics.
The depth of our domestic turmoil would be projected worldwide on April 4 with the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and then again on June 5 when Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was murdered. America and Americans were clearly divided and angry and did not share a united vision for the future of our country. Sound familiar?
What seemed different then than now is how our political leadership invited us to respond. Rather than blame, it was love. Rather than anger, it was reconciliation. I’m reminded of the words Sen. Kennedy spoke on the evening of April 4 in Indianapolis to a largely African-American audience: “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. So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King … but more importantly to say a prayer for our country, which all of us love – a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.”
Where is that call for love and unity today? Where are our leaders with a unifying vision of a King or Kennedy? How have we come to accept vengeance and victory in place of understanding and compassion?
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