Reminder from the Past: RFK and Optimism
There’s a point in any road trip where you realize there is an acute chance you have lost your mind. It’s inevitable. At some point, as the pavement flashes past and past and the kamikaze bugs slowly obscure all sight from your windshield, you begin to ponder thoughts of life and death and the endless expanse of time and whether the meaning of life might truly be purchasable in a truck stop gift shop.
My partner and I binge-listened to the RFK Tapes, a pretty awesome investigatory podcast on the assisiation of Robert F. Kennedy (it combines politics and conspiracy, so it’s one of the few podcasts my partner and I can both fully get into). Anyway, one episode features an interview with one of RFK’s former speechwriters. We hear the speechwriter and Kennedy himself deliver, in a round, the most amazing summation of Americana.
Perhaps it was the rough, stretching landscape that immersed our car; perhaps it was the effects of detoxing from a particularly caustic political season. No matter the cause, I found myself entranced, letting Bobby’s words from 1968 lilt me away into a sense of optimism and price.
“Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year,
but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that -
that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.
It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.
It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.
It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.
It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.
It measures neither our wit nor our courage,
neither our wisdom nor our learning,
neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country,
it measures everything,
except that which makes life worthwhile.
And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud
that we are Americans.”
I’ll be honest, folks. It’s been hard to feel pride in my country lately. I don’t need to summarize the news for you all - things have been rough and show no sign of balancing out. It’s exhausting to care; it’s a slow death not to care. I’ve talked before about my struggles identifying as an American, and no, I still don’t have any magic answers for myself or others.
But I can tell you…my man Bobby was right. This country is something special. Not a manifest destiny sort of special; not a world hegemony sort of special. The sort of special that flashes before your eyes like the dashed road lines on an endless road trip; vital, overlooked, constant.
What phrase about the United States speaks most to you? Accept the challenge - try not to be cynical or sarcastic in the your response ;)