Thursday, September 01, 2016

September 1, 2016--Political Poetry

Reading Larry Tye's rather good new biography of Robert Kennedy, Robert Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, I realized that one critical thing missing from the current contest for the presidency is poetry.

This year's campaign is being conducted exclusively in prose.

As Mario Cuomo said, "You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose." He of the 1984 convention speech, "City On the Hill," knew what he was taking about.

The closest thing to poetry we have had was Donald Trump's spritz-rapping during the Republican primaries. In a burst of hyperbole I may have compared him to Lenny Bruce.

Forgive me Lenny on the 50th anniversary of your OD death.

Hillary is not about poetry--she is already governing--and should be commended for no longer using black dialect when addressing African-American audiences nor getting someone with the talent of Ted Sorenson to write speeches for her full of quotes from Albert Camus or Aeschylus.

Tye writes that after the assassination of Bobby's brother, Jack, he sank into a nearly yearlong depression, roused from it largely by reading Greek literature and existentialist or absurdist authors such as Camus.

From this he learned about the meaning that can only come from tragic suffering and the dangers lurking within if we let hubris take us over.

God knows what Trump reads--just Tweets most likely--or Hillary for that matter. One suspects policy papers.

But Bobby Kennedy was comfortable with poetry--he carried with him biblical and literary quotes that he found inspiring and frequently threaded them into his public utterances. Very much including during his remarkable four-day visit to South Africa in 1966, fully 28 years before the end of apartheid.

Speaking to a mixed-race gathering of students at the University of Cape Town, he began--
I came here because of my deep interest [in] and affection for a land settled by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, then taken over by the British, and at last independent; a land in which the native inhabitants were at first subdued, but relations with whom remain a problem to this day; a land which defined itself on a hostile frontier . . . a land which once imported slaves, and now must struggle to wipe out the last traces of that former bondage. I refer, of course, to the United States of America.
It was not unusual for him to begin speeches this way--leading listeners in one direction and then shifting perspective.

He continued, now in more ode-like cadences--
Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation. 
Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance . . . . 
Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. It is this new idealism which is also, I believe, the common heritage of a generation which has learned that while efficiency can lead to the camps at Auschwitz, or the streets of Budapest, only the ideals of humanity and love can climb the hills of the Acropolis.
In Soweto

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home