The year 1968 might be considered the time when the Sixties ended prematurely. Soviet boots had crushed what people in Prague called “socialism with a human face”, students revolting in France and Germany had achieved… well… what? And by the end of 1968, two American public figures who had inspired millions of people with their visions, Dr. Martin Luther King jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, were dead, both assassinated. Richard Nixon was elected president, promising law and order and peace in Southeast Asia (instead, the American people got a man who put himself above the law and who secretly expanded the Vietnam war into Cambodia).
Forty years have passed since then, and the country has been through a lot - often, as in the cases of the disastrous Vietnam and Iraq wars, by choice. Mediocre presidents have come and gone, and the self-proclaimed Republican revolution from 1994 has culminated in a presidency that in the name of fighting terror has created a nearly authoritarian regime fond of secret prisons and torture, something previously known from, say, South America in the 1970s and, yes, Europe in the 1930s.
And so we’re all cynics now, and for us it’s hard to imagine what it must have felt like to have lived in 1968 and to have seen things turn sour so decisively, with two of the most charismatic public figures the country had produced in decades killed by madmen.
It is extremely hard to imagine seeing the same outpour of public grief caused by the deaths of Martin Luther King and of Robert F. Kennedy today. Or maybe not. Maybe the public has largely given up on politicians and has shifted its allegiances to persons like “Lady Di” - one shudders to think about this…
Paul Fusco’s RFK is an extended re-release of a book called “Funeral Train”, and for the most part it shows that outpour of public grief, as Robert Kennedy’s body was taken by train from New York City to the cemetery in Washington, DC, with thousands of people lining the train tracks to pay their respect. The book is remarkable for that very fact, of course, and while adding many often extremely blurry shots might not necessarily have improved “Funeral Train”, the book still is a reminder of what is to be gained when a politician truly inspires, while his colleagues dabble in managing “necessities”.
I think it’s a book all the cynics should look at - and we know from the Democratic primaries that politics is now dominated by cynics who are only guided by polls and by what it takes to get to power (while claiming to be “centrists”). We would all be well advised to take a step back and to think about why it might not be such a bad thing to re-introduce the greater good into politics, to stop thinking only in terms of the “bottom line”, and to not cynically dismiss the rare politician who actually manages to inspire. Those people lining the train tracks in RFK are proof of a hunger for more than just pandering and cheap pseudo-solutions for problems that are never really fully explained - and that hunger might now be stronger than ever.