Today I was watching my Friday episode of Rachel Maddow and she showed a piece of long-forgotten footage that had been recovered from an Alaska State Library by a janitor.
Sen. Kennedy gave this speech on April 7, 1968, at the Alaska Democratic convention. His brother Robert was the original speaker, but when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated three days earlier, Robert thought it was unwise to leave Washington DC and sent Teddy in his stead.
I was listening to this speech on the train on the way home and I swear I almost stood up and applauded.
“If any man ever doubted the good intentions of his fellow man, if any man wondered if his government could be responsive to cases of human need, if any man ever yearned for a way of life that satisfied his desires for human freedom and dignity, he could look to America. This was our image in truth this was America as we knew it as we grew in it and as we have taught to our children.
“A weakness in society is a weakness in ourselves. Within each and every one of us who are complacent, who are doing well, who realize the comforts of material gain, and who, above all else, apathetic. Where is the moral strength within us? The qualities of character that attribute and carry to our children of the American heroes that have gone before us.
“I, for one, do not feel that we are any less than our fore bearers. I, for one, do not feel that there is anyone within this room who has less courage, less conviction, or is any less dedicated to the American dream than generations past. But I do feel that in a few short years we have let events master us rather than we them. I do feel in our great history we have fallen into a lapse.
“We have refused, each and every one of us, to exercise the talent and character bred into us, and as a result, in a land that was created on the Judeo-Christian ideals of love and brotherhood, we have let hatred take the lead and we are paying that price today as we have paid for it many days and nights in this difficult decade.
‘We are where we are because all of us are passing through life with our own personal blinders on. We favor civil rights bills and feel a warm glow in our hearts when we hear the eloquence of a Martin Luther King. We cluck our tongues over the agitators in the streets and call them outside troublemakers or ne’er-do-wells. In essence we are all very decent men and women of good faith, we are all very busy with our careers and with our families. All too busy with our own concerns to fight injustice, to fight poverty, and to fight ill will in the immediate world around us. As a US Senator my message to you today is very simple: we only delude and mislead ourselves if we feel we lift a burden from our personal shoulders by passing pieces of legislation, important as that is, if we feel legislation can be our only response to our fellow men who are deprived.
“Beyond that I would say that no matter how the most difficult questions of Vietnam is solved, no matter how we meet the future challenges in the Middle East, no matter how strong the controls we develop over the horror of atomic weapons, and no matter how we face the domestic problems of health for the poor, education for our young, and decent housing and better roads for the more distant parts of America, no matter how well we do these things, they will only be the epitaph of a great nation who could not bind its own wounds within itself and as a result, lost itself. If laws do not meet the need, and they don’t; if speeches do not meet the need, and they won’t; if marches and demonstrations don’t meet the need, and they don’t, where are we to turn? We can only turn to ourselves.”