On the day I was born, said my father, said he
"I've an an elegant legacy waitin' for ye.
'Tis a rhyme for your lips and a song for your heart
To sing it whenever the world falls apart. "
Look, look, look to the rainbow
Follow it over the hill and the stream
Look, look, look to the rainbow
Follow the fellow who follows a dream.
For those of you who are younger, who may not quite get exactly what the Kennedys meant to us, this lovely piece from Bob Herbert explains it well - they made us feel better than we were, and made us want to be better people. He suggests that their theme song, rather than "Camelot," should instead be "Follow the Rainbow" from "Finian's Rainbow":
The Kennedy message was always to aim higher, and they always — or almost always — appealed to our best instincts. So there was Bobby speaking to a group of women at a breakfast in Terre Haute, Ind., during the 1968 campaign. As David Halberstam recalled, Bobby told the audience: “The poor are hidden in our society. No one sees them anymore. They are a small minority in a rich country. Yet I am stunned by a lack of awareness of the rest of us toward them.”
Bobby cared about the poor and ordinary working people in a way that can seem peculiar in post-Reagan America. And his insights into the problems of urban ghettos in the 1960s seemed to point to some of the debilitating factors at work in much of the nation today. Bobby believed, as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has noted, that the crisis of the cities ultimately came from “the destruction of the sense, and often the fact, of community, of human dialogue, the thousand invisible strands of common experience and purpose, affection and respect which tie men to their fellows.”
Kennedy worried about the dissolution of community in a world growing ever more “impersonal and abstract.” He wanted the American community to flourish, and he knew that could not be accomplished in an environment of increasing polarization, racial and otherwise.
“Ultimately,” he said, “America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired.”
Like his brothers and sisters (don’t forget Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Special Olympics), Bobby believed deeply in public service and felt that the whole point of government was to widen the doors of access to those who were being left out.
“Camelot” became a metaphor for the Kennedys in the aftermath of Jack’s assassination. But I always found “Finian’s Rainbow” to be a more appropriate touchstone for the family, especially the song “Look to the Rainbow,” with the moving lyric, “Follow the fellow who follows a dream.”
That was Ted’s message at Bobby’s funeral. The Kennedys counseled us for half a century to be optimistic and to strive harder, to find the resilience to overcome those inevitable moments of tragedy and desolation, and to move steadily toward our better selves, as individuals and as a nation.
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