How politically powerful is the Kennedy family
Kennedy - a name committed : Legacy of a family
The famous "I am a Berliner" speech by President John F. Kennedy is one of the most memorable moments of his 1,000-day presidency. It has burned itself into the national memories of the United States and other countries around the world - including the German one. I was a little boy then, but the words and pictures that document Kennedy's presidency are so ingrained in my memory as if I were there myself.
In retrospect, the 1960s were a time of turmoil. In June 1963, shortly before his historic trip to Germany, President Kennedy made a televised address addressing Americans and discussing civil rights. The mood in the southern states was extremely tense as efforts to eradicate racial segregation continued in schools and other institutions. At a time when the United States was committed to promoting and protecting the rights of all who aspire to freedom around the world, it was important to President Kennedy that all Americans be concerned about civil rights. A little later that summer there was another great moment in US political history. 250,000 people took part in the March on Washington and heard Martin Luther King say the words that have also found their way into the minds of people around the world. It was the words: "I have a dream".
The United States has always been a continually evolving country as its citizens strive to achieve the “more perfect union” that the American Constitution describes. That is also what the Kennedys Legacy is all about. As the first president to be born in the 20th century, John F. Kennedy represented a generation that truly wanted to change the world, but the legacy that bears his name represents something far greater than its 1,000 days Presidency. It represents the best of the ideals of American politics - and the best of the United States itself. It reflects the belief that each of us can make a difference - and that we are all called to try and do just that. It reflects the basic idea that there are no limits - especially not when we work together.
This spirit of lively optimism and confidence marked the 1000 days of the Kennedy administration, which came to an abrupt and tragic end. Just as I can evoke some of the moments of his presidency, I also feel the deep sadness and painful loss my parents and everyone around me felt in the days following his assassination.
The death of his brother had shaken Robert Kennedy - affectionately called Bobby - badly. He couldn't pronounce the words "assassination", "murder" or even "Dallas", instead he always referred only to the "events of November 22nd". In his grief he turned to ancient Greek philosophy and poetry. These writings strengthened his belief that it is necessary to live up to his ideals and to show compassion to the needy and disadvantaged. He urged his Senate colleagues from both parties to wonder why needy black Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans seem to fall through the social net. "We need to put an end to the clichés and stereotypes of past political rhetoric," he said.
Was this the direction in which JFK would also have developed? What would JFK have achieved if he hadn't been murdered 1,000 days after he took office? These are some of the nagging questions in history.
One thing is certain: when times changed, Robert Kennedy knew that old solutions were not always suitable for new challenges, either at home or abroad. We can do better, he often said. His campaign slogan was "The United States Can Do Better". He made these demands not only on his government, but also on himself. Drawers like “left” and “right” were of little importance to him. Dogmas that prevented us from moving forward should be dropped. His passionate convictions and iron will filled his public office with a strength and determination that we can still feel today.
As we know, his life was also put to an end by an assassin's bullet. These memories have also been burned into the minds of millions of Americans. Robert Kennedy's funeral was held in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, and he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, not far from his brother's grave. A funeral procession brought his coffin from New York to Washington. Lots of people - old and young, black and white - lined the tracks to pay their respects to Bobby for empathizing with Bobby and knowing that they would miss him.
Just as we wonder what could have been if JFK had lived on, we also wonder what would have happened if RFK hadn't been killed. Would RFK have won the Democratic nomination in 1968 and then become president? We cannot say how the Americans or the United States has changed.
But there was another Kennedy brother who was there to pick up and carry the torch from where it was left by John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby. For me, JFK and RFK are bigger than life icons. My immediate and personal experiences with the Kennedys legacy have been shaped by the career of Edward M. Kennedy, Teddy, who served as a Senator from 1962 until his death in 2009. He has contributed to more than 1,000 relevant civil rights, immigration, education and health laws.
One of Senator Ted Kennedy's final political decisions was to endorse Barack Obama's presidential nomination. Despite his cancer, he insisted on attending Obama's swearing-in ceremony in 2009. Ted Kennedy died in September of the same year. Historians say he was at the height of a long and respected political career at the time. There are no unanswered questions about what he could have achieved. His political career speaks for itself. It reflects an ideal of the United States, as shared by his brothers, a vision founded on the belief that an ideal democracy is a courageous and bold undertaking that requires each individual in an exciting and enriching way to take personal responsibility. It opened up new opportunities in American politics.
This is an everlasting legacy. It lives on in the dreams and desires that people like Teddy Kennedy realized in the current President of the United States. Barack Obama, in turn, places his hopes in young people who, like himself and the Kennedy brothers, believe that all human beings have the power to change the course of history for the better. Immediately after the election results were announced in November 2012, President Barack Obama personally thanked a number of young volunteers who worked in his campaign office in Chicago. He was quoting Bobby Kennedy at the time. "Every time a person stands up for an ideal," Kennedy had said many years earlier on a visit to South Africa, "it triggers a small wave of hope."
Here in Berlin, the world has seen how people have indeed changed the course of history. They sparked small waves of hope that turned into a mighty stream that tore down a wall of oppression. Many have longed for President Obama's visit to Berlin. I am sure that he, too, will be delighted to return to this great capital of a country that strives for ideals and dreams every day that can bring out the best in all people in the world.
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