Obama Inherits Bobby Kennedy's Populism

Obama Inherits Bobby Kennedy's Populism

By Ed Koch - August 27, 2008

With Barack Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate, the Democratic Party Presidential ticket is now complete.

I have known and admired Joe Biden for many years, having served with him in Congress. While I have never met Barack Obama, I have come to know him through his speeches and television appearances during the primary and now in the ongoing general election. He is a highly intelligent and honorable individual.

The adulation for Obama here in New York rivals that exhibited for Bobby Kennedy when he ran for President in 1968. Millions of people, myself included, loved Bobby. He had a McCarthy side to him, but we forgave him his shortcomings. Ultimately, he conveyed an innocence and had an inexplicable radiance that touched us.

Barack Obama, who comes out of Chicago's ward politics and the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.'s church, seeks to inherit the mantle of Bobby Kennedy's populist legacy with his slogan, "Yes, we can." His inspiring speeches are intended to unite us in a struggle against special interests that have had their way in the halls of Congress, preventing us from achieving our potential as a nation. Whether or not he will prevail in convincing the voters of his sincerity, ability and effectiveness, we will soon know.

The Republicans have as their standard bearer a bona fide war hero, John McCain, a person of recognized integrity. While running as a true conservative on a host of issues, including the Iraq war, taxes, abortion, and gay rights, he also has the reputation of a maverick, able to work with those who disagree with him. McCain conveys his goal of defending and protecting us with the slogan, "Our Country."

John McCain must be lauded for his sacrifices in defending our country during the Vietnam War. He has criticized some Bush administration policies and agreed with others while seeking to establish that he is his own man.

Putting the pending election aside for a moment, each of us should acknowledge that warts and all our country is special and should be defended not only from military assault but from unfair criticisms. Both candidates would agree to that. It has given to the world values and protections for its citizens that don't exit in most countries. Foremost among them are the first ten amendments to the Constitution. First among those amendments is the enshrined right of free speech allowing us to voice our concerns for justice and allowing us to protest against the government without fear. Those rights became even more meaningful as we witnessed the Chinese government during the recent Olympics while the world was watching, arresting foreigners, including Americans, and its own citizens for engaging in peaceful protests. Those protests include the occupation of Tibet, and Chinese citizens protesting the deaths of their children who sat at their desks in poorly built government school buildings unable to withstand the recent Sichuan earthquake.

In the next few months we will exercise our right and obligation to elect our next President. I have great confidence that the American people will select the person and team that will best protect our country for the next four years. For whatever it's worth, I will announce my preference and campaign for that ticket after both conventions have concluded. Philosophically, I am a liberal with sanity. I believe that most Americans are politically close to the center. My political center remains the place occupied by Scoop Jackson, Herbert Humphrey, Harry Truman, Pat Moynihan and Joe Lieberman.

I watched the Democratic Convention on opening night and the program was superb. The presentation of Barack's wife Michelle was brilliant both in delivery and substance. She knocked the ball out of the park. Particularly moving was to see the dignified face of her mother, Mrs. Marian Robinson, as her daughter extolled her role in the family as the rock that anchored it. I was reminded of my own mom, now deceased, as I am sure millions of those watching were as well. An extraordinary performance.

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Are we and NATO headed down a path of confrontation with Russia? I hope not. Russia cannot be brought to its knees. It has the resolve and resources, including nuclear missiles and a large army, to stand up to those who threaten it. We have to treat Russia like the superpower it is and extend hands of friendship to it once again.

The first order of business for our new President should be to sit down with Russia's leaders and put everything on the table for discussion. This would require, among other things, dispelling Russia's fear that it is being encircled by NATO. Our goal coming out of those negotiations should be to have Russia as our partner in maintaining world peace for the next 100 years.

Remember, as an August 23rd New York Times article stated, "The war started late on Aug. 7 when Mr. Saakashvili (President of Georgia) ordered his small, American-trained military to attack and seize Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, a tiny mountainous region on the southern face of the Caucasus Ridge. The region has been out of Georgia's control, and under Russian support, since a brief war in the 1990s." Saakashvili continues to foolishly threaten Russia and hopes to drag us in. Surely we are not that stupid.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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