Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Sweet column: Obama, Edwards claiming Bobby Kennedy legacy. Dueling poverty messages.


WASHINGTON -- Democratic White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) staked a claim Wednesday to rival Sen. John Edwards' (D-N.C.) signature issue -- poverty -- while raising the question of who could claim the legacy of Bobby Kennedy.

Obama didn't mention Edwards by name during his speech, delivered at a facility here providing a variety of programs -- cultural, social and health -- to the "underserved" in the nation's capital.

"This kind of poverty is not an issue I just discovered for the purposes of a campaign. It is the cause that led me to a life of public service almost 25 years ago,'' said Obama, a former Chicago community organizer.

At the top of Obama's speech--detailing a $6 billion plan to combat urban poverty -- Obama invoked the name of another charismatic political figure, Bobby Kennedy, to whom he has been compared.

"It's been four decades since Bobby Kennedy crouched in a shack along the Mississippi Delta and looked in the wide, listless eyes of a hungry child," Obama said.

Forty years ago, Kennedy toured some of the nation's poorest areas in order to bring attention to problems languishing to this day. Obama quoted a Kennedy line about poverty in America, when he asked rhetorically, "How can a country like this allow it?"

Obama's speech came on the day Edwards was wrapping up an eight-state, 11-city tour to some of the country's poorest areas in order to call attention to the 37 million people in the U.S. living in poverty. Edwards ended his trip in the same place Kennedy concluded his 1968 tour, Prestonsburg, Ky.

Speaking at the Floyd County courthouse, Edwards said, AP reported, "I want you to join us to end the work Bobby Kennedy started."

Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz, in a statement issued in reaction to Obama, said, "This is another example of Edwards leading on the issues and other candidates following. John Edwards' leadership has taken this race to places nobody else is going -- from areas of the country that have essentially been forgotten, to a discussion on rural health care and how to reward work over wealth. Without John Edwards shining a desperately needed spotlight on this issue, it would be a very different race."

(For complete text of Obama's speech detailing his urban agenda see blog entry below.....)


Bobby Kennedy is still remembered warmly - especially by other politicians - for his expressed concern for poor people. What isn't so well remembered is that Kennedy himself couldn't explain exactly why this issue was of such importance to him.

In 1968 a Time Magazine piece covered Kennedy's foray into poverty-stricken eastern Kentucky. A pertinent excerpt:

"Why, Kennedy was asked in the township of Pippa Passes, was a man reared to a multimillionaire's comforts concerned with the plight of Kentucky's poor? 'I can't answer that question,' Bobby confessed. 'Sorry.'"

Of course, politicians tend to be much more savvy these days. If someone posed the same question to John Edwards, I'd be willing to bet his hedge fund consulting fees that his answer wouldn't be, "Because I'm pandering for votes."

So was Bobby in 1968. Many just prefer not to recall that aspect of the sainted man's candidacy.

Pandering for votes? Please! Do they need the job? Are they going to enrich their cronies like the existing administration. That a man, either Bobby Kennedy, John Edwards or Barack Obama would care for his fellow man, burning to enrich the lives discarded by society is a mystery. The answer is not available by surveying recent history, but if you reach back far enough, you find the man Jesus, who abandoned the riches of heaven to become a peasant and stand with the poor and oppressed against the dominist world view. Though His recent "followers" portray him differently, that is what it is all about. Bravo Mr. Edwards and Mr. Obama and every man woman or child that sacrifices their own comfort or ambition to relief the suffering of the "least of these."

I find the rhetoric behind the detraction of the ideal of men and women of wealth and privilege offering themesleves and their resources to uplift the less fortunate to be not only patently illogical, but ANTICHRISTIAN and anathema. Jesus warned that the world would always number the poor among the human populace. But, to whom MUCH IS GIVEN, MUCH IS REQUIRED! Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his goods to feed the hungry, water the thristy, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, attend the needs of the widows and the orphans, visit and rehabilitate prisoners, heal the sick, and execute justice with mercy. It's not a left-wing communist ruse, meant to wastefully dole welfare to social undesirables, but the will of GOD, the Son. Furthermore, it's a Divine Ordinance of selflessness that should not be that difficult to grasp for a so-called Christian Nation. I know that message of JESUS truth is irreconcilably inconsistant with the errant apostate ways of money changing prosperity currently taught from the pulpits of America's megachurches. Ditto, the insanely selfish American mantra of epicurean hedonistic nationalism, wherein every individual callously and inequitably struggles, in agony and frustration, to pursue the illusive delusion we call the American Dream, where our imperial aristocracy treacherously takes legally unregulated advantage of the Milky Way. And, yet, we have the stunning temerity to fuss and lambast the rest of the progressive world for our being the only first world nation to phycially regress in intellect, stature, and health. Other lesser species have gone completely extinct for life offenses far less than the human pursuit of the American Dream.

With bigotry and intolerance aforethought, Americans tend to hypocritically harp on the dole of public assistance allotted to our own impoverished and disadvantaged fellow TAX PAYERS, while granting very generous tax-free doles to businesses, industries, and corporations who PAY NO TAXES. We allow, make that openly GRANT corporations grand opportunities to make money not afforded any other sector, while these same corporations fight fervently against OUR BEST INTERESTS. It's why Dick Cheney was able to pay more in personal income taxes than he made as Vice President of the United States of America. It's also why WalMart has shoddy healthcare, and anyone who dares utter the word UNION in any context can wind up FIRED with no chance of collecting unemployment compensation. I whine, quite beside myself, from what used to be the Middle Class here in the American Midwest. I really could have used a no-bid multi-gazillion dollar contract to rebuild my own neighborhood here in Saint Clair County, Illinois where there is poverty a plenty and indescribable infrastructural dysfunction.

Now, I don't expect any sweeping meaningful changes to be developed and implemented any time too soon, certainly not even as early as January 20th, 2009. That notwithstanding, particularly as we swirl the proverbial bowl drain to HELL in the handbasket of Bush43's slipshod weaving, Americans need to praise and support anyone who has made the plight of the poor a humane top priority.

Mike, the reason an edwards or Obama cannot answer the same way is that they would be slammed by everyone from the media to the right to Hillary. today, being a real human being is not acceptable. You must a perfect and superman and never ever make a mistake or look human.
I just recently started hearing RFK in regards to Edwards and in this it is usually one of the bloggers or Edwards himself who evokes the name in comparison. On the other hand, I've been hearing the comparison between Obama and RFK since before he decided to run for president. And it's usually by someone else and not Obama himself.
I don't know if it was your column, Lynn, or someone else. but, before Obama announced the article was describing him asleep on coach on a regular airplane going to Chicago. Next to him was a book about Kennedy. I guess he got curious enough from the comparing that he decided to read a bio on him.
I also remember the first day the dems took back congress and Nancy pelosi became speaker, someone spotted Obama (who was being followed by tons of photographers and newspeople, as usual) and Obama was walking with Ethel Kennedy. She thought him adorable.

The reason Bobby Kennedy was unable to answer the question is because he had emotional gut feelings but he wasn't always good at articulating why he felt the way he did.So the fact he couldn't answer the question doesn't make him a phony he really cared about the poor.I think it's annoying that you have to tell people why you feel the way you do.I'm sure his brothers murder and his own experience of coming from a family that themselves faced ethnic discrimination contributed to his empathy for the poor.But instead of giving a person credit for caring people today want to make you explain why you feel a certain way.

Sometimes you can care about something and not know why so Mike Bates I think is being unfair to Bobby Kennedy

That a man, either Bobby Kennedy, John Edwards or Barack Obama would care for his fellow man, burning to enrich the lives discarded by society is a mystery.

All those liberals want "to enrich the lives discarded by society (how'd "society" do that anyway?) with someone else's money. How Christian.

Obama is no Bobby Kennedy. Obama isn't a political risk taker. John Edwards doesn't have Bobby's depth, but is more sincere than Obama and has outlined his specifics more clearly than Obama's "hope" platitudes.

John Edwards lived his faith years before he ever thought of holding office, and ending poverty is his number one public service mission.

When he announced his run for the Presidency, he offered the American public detailed plans. Clinton talks generalities; Obama announced his candidacy but asked the public to give him a few months to prepare his positions.

Edwards is our best hope for healing this nation.

Obama is no Bobby Kennedy. Obama isn't a political risk taker.

I can think of one major risk RFK didn't take: He wouldn't challenge Lyndon B. Johnson until he clearly appeared vulnerable. It wasn't until a few days after Gene McCarthy placed a respectable second - against LBJ as a write-in candidate - in the New Hampshire primary that Bobby declared his candidacy.

Anonymous (of course) said:
Sometimes you can care about something and not know why so Mike Bates I think is being unfair to Bobby Kennedy

No doubt there are some folks "who care about something and not know why." Fortunately, most of them don't think they're qualified to be president.

Justin said:
When he (Edwards) announced his run for the Presidency, he offered the American public detailed plans.

Not entirely. The first week of this year, for example, he said during a blog session on the Daily Kos:

"I believe we need a universal health care system where ALL Americans have health care coverage. I'm working on a plan right now for universal healthcare, and if you have ideas I would love to hear them."

He's had years to think about it and formulate his plan and he's still working on it?

A lot of people here are quoting Jesus and, whether you're religious or not, I reckon there is no better example when it comes to who politicians should be inspired by when it comes to their fellow man, especially in this polarised world (never mind just the USA).
Yet we seem to constantly look for foibles in politicians who dare to really try and DO something, be it RFK, Edwards, Obama or whoever. Maybe it makes us feel better about not getting out there and trying to change things ourselves (I include myself here).
As it says in the gospels, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"
These people aren't Messiahs, nor are they devils, they're just high profile mailmen of the country's concerns and aspirations. We need to view them more objectively and see how we can influence and engage with them. If you give up on that, you're left with the type of leader who exploits our apathy and cynicism to the full (need I say more?)..
Come on! Let's really try to support an empowering, inclusive politics which evokes the messages from RFK's 85-day campaign. In that respect we can be roleplayers, too. As an observer from Scotland, I'm really hoping that someone like Edwards or Obama can come through (though money and party machines may say otherwise).
Change is now. Good luck and God bless not just America, but God bless us all.

Mike Bates said:
All those liberals want "to enrich the lives discarded by society (how'd "society" do that anyway?) with someone else's money. How Christian.

It's OUR money, and if conservatives are allowed to spend piles of it blowing up little brown children, liberals are allowed to spend just a little of it feeding the hungry, healing the sick, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless. After all of that we still have not spent ten percent of this foolish war. Sorry, Mike Bush and company killed your fiscal high horse, then beat it, then sodomized it and then threw it up on the barbie. Conservatives no longer have the right to lecture about fiscal responsibility, they voted it away... twice.

While the U.S. government and media keep focusing on defense policies, campaign advertisement and the war in Iraq, 1.2 billion people in the world continue surviving on less than $1 dollar a day. I would like to all presidential candidates and political leaders support, more international problems that affect our place in this world, such as global poverty. We should not forget the commitment made towards the U.N. Millennium Goals (a pact of ending extreme world hunger by the year 2025) in 2000. While the U.S. government and media keep focusing on defense policies and the war in Iraq, 1.2 billion people in the world continue surviving on less than $1 dollar a day. According to The Borgen Project, an annual $19 billion dollars is needed to eliminate half of the extreme poverty affecting the world by the year 2015. To my sense, it is almost unacceptable to have spent so far more than $340 billion in Iraq only, when we have more than war immunities to change the world and eliminate poverty.

Leave a comment

Get the Sweet widget

More widgets


Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Stay in touch

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on July 19, 2007 5:36 AM.

Sweet blog extra: Clinton scores endorsement of Terry Duffy, chair of Chicago's CME Group, key LaSalle Street exchange. was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet column: Senate all-nighter on Iraq withdrawl bill made sense. is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.