The catalyst for Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign, a transformative event in his life, was his visit to some of the most impoverished parts of this country, Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, where he cradled a black child whose stomach was distended by hunger, and wept.Romney was saying that, as president, he wouldn’t make the very poor a top priority, because they are doing well enough, at least relative to the middle class.
But where on earth did Romney get that idea? The statistics tell a rather different story. Last year, for example, more than half of all children in poor households experienced a major hardship such as hunger or living in overcrowded living conditions, according to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And if statistics like that are too abstract for Romney, perhaps he should spend some time in a clinic for the uninsured or a soup kitchen. If he did, he'd discover that life for the very poor is still very hard. They struggle just to pay for food and heat, let alone rent. Most of these people get by – people almost always find a way to get by – but it’s not a life that Romney or anybody else would want for themselves or their loved ones.
Romney is correct that a safety net exists for these people: Food stamps, and housing vouchers, and public health insurance save countless Americans from even worse hardship and, in the best of cases, help lift them into the middle class, where they stay. But the programs are not generous enough, or expansive enough, to do the job adequately. In most states, for example, only mothers and children are eligible for basic health insurance under Medicaid. Housing vouchers and subsidized child care, frequently essential for mothers who want to work, typically have long waiting lists. The value and reach of cash assistance (welfare) has actually declined in relative terms.
As a senator from New York, Kennedy was the impetus for a successful redevelopment project in poverty-stricken Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn in New York City. He proudly carried the title bestowed on him by the press corps, of "tribune of the underclass." He was loved by African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and immigrant labor groups, connecting with them in ways no politician had, before or since. He carried the banner for the poor, those he called the "disaffected" and "the excluded." He aligned himself with the civil rights movement and became a beacon and a lightning rod for social justice, at great personal risk. He fought for a more aggressive posture in the Democratic Party to eliminate poverty and discrimination. He said, “I believe as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.”
Robert Kennedy's oldest child, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, recalls her father's reaction upon his return from the Mississippi Delta:
Robert Kennedy was a rich guy too, just like Mitt Romney. But unlike Romney, he chose a life of genuine public service, one that gave back to the community and inspired rather than plundered and destroyed people's lives, which was Romney's career at Bain. Robert Kennedy instilled those values of public service — "to whom much is given, much is expected" — on his children. What, if anything, have Romney's $100 million children contributed to their community and country? To what end has Mitt Romney chosen his "public service" hobby — to enact the Ryan Plan, effectively trampling on the poor and middle class and further enrich the 1%?She says she distinctly remembers her father coming home "very much stunned and shocked" from hunger hearings he held as a senator in the Mississippi Delta. "Do you know how lucky you are?" he asked her. "Do something for your country."
Townsend says RFK often quoted Luke 12:48 to his children — "to whom much is given, much is expected." He made sure they visited an Indian reservation before taking a wonderful river trip out West, she said, and drove through Harlem on the way to their nice apartment near the United Nations in New York.
"He always wanted us to see a part of life that most people in our situation wouldn't see."
Mitt Romney is the poster manchild for the wanton privilege of the SuperPac Oligarchs and the Plutocrat Class, and for the yawning income inequality of the last 30 years which has culminated in what President Obama accurately described as the "make or break year for the middle class." These are the stakes. What this rich guy, Romney, fails to grasp in his 1% fantasyworld is that as the poor go, so goes the middle class, so go us all.
As Robert Kennedy said, "but we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can."
Robert Kennedy was a rich guy too, just like Mitt Romney. But that's where the similarity ends. Bobby was "a good and decent man," as his brother Edward said, with a burning idealism and passionate integrity for making this a better world for succeeding generations of Americans, building a more just and prosperous society for all. We know what he stood for, and we loved him his courage.
That is the legacy he left us, one that Romney blithely seeks to swat away as it isn't central to his life. Mitt Romney, the rich guy with the molten core, couldn't hold a candle to Bobby. Mitt Romney doesn't deserve the high honor and privilege of being our president.
This is still Robert Kennedy country.