Roger L. Simon

Bobby Kennedy and Why Obama Unnerves Me

Two or three days before Robert Kennedy was assassinated in the early morning hours of June 5, 1968- its hard to remember now – I attended a rally for RFK in East Los Angeles. The audience was almost entirely Mexican or Mexican-American – there were very few of us gringos. The crowd was wildly enthusiastic, to put it mildly. Cries of “Viva! Viva!” rang out everywhere. It felt as if I was at a rally in Central America and Kennedy was not running for President. He was running for “caudillo.” I am sure if it were put to a vote of those present, they would have installed him as “maximum leader” for life in a landslide.

I was a supporter of Bobby Kennedy’s in those days, but I was unnerved. And it’s not just because I knew that his record was checkered, to say the least. A cult of personality was developing and I was beginning to feel nauseated by it. I am having the same feeling about Obama. Every time I hear “Si se puede!” I get queasy. I didn’t when I heard it years ago at Cesar Chavez farmworker rallies, when it had a specific reference, but I do here. It’s as if rhetoric has been stolen in a form – almost deliberately – devoid of content. “Yes, we can – what?” Nobody knows.

Another way to look at this is as an issue of the separation of church and state–for me one of the most important values of our society. Support of Obama has become a religion. And now it threatens to take over the state. It’s not separated. And like most religions, it can mean different things to different people. Christ said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” for a very good reason. I’m not a Christian but I thank him for that. Those words made democracy possible. I don’t want fainting spells at political rallies, anymore than I want cries of “Viva!” I want concerned voters. I’m worried.