I just finished watching Bobby. It's a documentary that details the personal details of the lives of several people who were at the Ambassador Hotel when Bobby Kennedy was shot there in 1968, and tries to give a glimpse into the spirit if the times through their stories. While the cynic in me understands that this is a carefully crafted representation of the events that day, that cynicism fails to overpower the sense that there is some truth to the notion that there is a profound difference between the politics of the time, and the politics of today.
Specifically, it strikes me that while the 1960's were plagued by the assassination of political figures, each such assassination was met with an outpouring of shock, grief and loss on a national scale. The men who were assassinated - especially Dr. King and the two Kennedys - were held in high regard. The defining moment of an entire generation of US citizens was the shared bond of knowing exactly where you were when you found out that John F. Kennedy had been shot. And while the cynic in me again pipes up, wondering if part of the difference between the way the political figures of the day were viewed, and our perceptions of people in similar positions today, is that we simply know more about the lives of politicians, have become more aware of the realities of political decision-making... Even my often-excessive cynicism cannot overcome the sense that there is a significant difference in character between the politicians of 40 years ago and those of today, that they were... if not 'good', precisely, at least less... dirty?
I came to several realizations during, and after, watching the film. The first was that if any of the major political figures today were assassinated, I don't think I, or most of the public, would react in a way at all similar to the scenes depicted in the film, or in other recordings I've encountered of the aftermaths of political assassinations in the 1960's. I might be surprised, or shocked, but I don't think I, or large portions of the population, would react with grief. We would not be able to say, "A good person has been killed, and our country is the lesser for it". I realized that in my lifetime, I have never known of a major political figure, much less an elected official at the national level, whom I would regard as a 'good' person. And this bothers me.
Now, I'm not self-absorbed enough to think that I have 'the answer', or that I understand 'what this country needs'... And certainly, anything that I came up with as what 'this country needs' would probably be exactly what some significant percentage of other folks in this country would think was exactly what this country did not need... But then I think back, to the stories I've been told, to the research I've done into that tangled morass known as 'history'... and I wonder. Were things really that much different 40 years ago? Has the political landscape changed to such an extent that 'good' people can no longer succeed in politics? Or were the politicians never 'good' at all?
Regardless of whether or not the politicians of yesteryear were truly 'good', it seems to me that, while it might not be 'what this country needs', what I want to see, in my lifetime, is a politician that I can believe is a good person, whether they're as shiny as their PR folks claim or not. I want a return to faith, not in a system, because systems can be subverted, but a return to faith in other people, that they are good, and can be good, even if, or perhaps particularly if, they are politicians.