A little more than forty years ago, thousands of Amercans watched as the train bearing the remains of Robert Francis Kennedy rolled slowly by on its journey from New York to Washington, D.C. Last Friday, another train traveling over the same line carried Barack Obama and Joe Biden from Philadelphia and Wilmington, respectively, to Washington. The cold weather and security concerns prevented huge crowds from gathering to watch the Obama train, but there were people who made the effort to watch it pass by.
The pundits and Obama's own staff have likened the president-elect's rail journey to that of Abraham Lincoln. But the analogy is flawed. Lincon was to take the helm of a nation on the brink of civil war. His journey was interrupted not by rallies, but by riots. The country was divided, and Lincoln's election had brought the crisis to a head. Lincoln wanted to be a uniter, but his principled opposition to the expansion of slavery made union impossible.
For me, Barack Obama has much more in common with Robert Kennedy. While I did my part as a high school volunteer for Eugene McCarthy in 1968, and considered RFK a usurper, I came to realize that Kennedy was the only candidate who could bring a divided nation together. The people who said they'd vote for Kennedy or George Wallace seemed totally oxymoronic, but we humans are contradictory. People whose prejudices led them to follow segregationist Wallace were also attracted to Kennedy, a man who had former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader (now Congressman) John Lewis on his staff.
Obama has received the votes of many who might have supported a racist candidate in 1968. His optimism and "Yes We Can" spirit have broken barriers between races and between political viewpoints. He has given us the kind of hope that America hasn't seen since the death of Robert F. Kennedy. His presidency is one legacy of the two dreamers who died forty years ago--Kennedy and Martin Luther King, jr.
I can't watch the first video without tears welling up in my eyes. The second, while not as beautifully photographed, reminds us that Barack gives us the hope of fulfilling the dreams of both Kennedy and King.