Robert Kennedy’s Legacy

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, May 31 (UPI, The Washington Post) — Doris Day and James Stewart play a couple who accidentally stumble onto a planned political assassination in “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Doris Day’s refrain, “Que sera sera” — whatever will be will be — became a mantra for the ’50s. First released in 1956, the film recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. In Hitchcock’s film the assassination is averted.

But life does not always mimic art.

It has been 39 years since the slaying of Robert Kennedy at Los Angeles’ venerable Ambassador Hotel. Kennedy had just won the 1968 California Democratic primary. The Illinois primary was around the corner. Kennedy looked to be the sure presidential nominee.

The film “Bobby” by Emilio Estevez — shot on location in the Ambassador Hotel in late 2005 before its controversial demolition — brings the legacy of the ’60s civil rights movement and Vietnam back to life. The Ambassador was once a landmark — the good and the famous stayed there. The film intertwines eight lives permanently affected by the Kennedy murder.

A war was raging. Kennedy hoped to unify a divided United States.

Today, Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., are the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination for president. Both carry the mantle passed on by Kennedy. Bobby could have only dreamed that a woman and an African-American would be the front-runners for his party’s nomination.

A war is raging again, and the United States seeks a candidate to unify it once more.

When the Democratic convention convenes next year in Denver, it will be exactly 40 years and one month to the date of the Kennedy assassination. I have yet to decide which candidate I will ultimately support. Several months ago a very impressive Gen. Wesley Clark was in London as the guest of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council, of which I am a vice chairman. At the spring meeting of the Democratic National Committee, I found Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut to be a thoughtful contender.

Whoever the nominee is — and there are other good candidates as well — the person selected will have to unify a severely divided America. And it will not be enough to be a peacemaker; the candidate will have to guarantee U.S. security and regain the confidence of a suspect world. In many ways the candidate will have to carry forth Kennedy’s vision.

As for the two Democratic front-runners:

Obama attended Occidental College, Columbia and Harvard, where he was president of the Law Review. His African father died in a car accident when he was 21. His Caucasian mother died of ovarian cancer in 1995. He is self made. He is a fighter. He is inspiring, a fiery orator who represents a new generation. He is the first African-American with a serious chance of winning the presidency. He won Illinois in 2004 with 70 percent of the vote. Some question his lack of foreign policy credentials.

Clinton has proven her muster. She is the only first lady to have won a senatorial seat. In November 2006 she carried all but four New York counties — quite the achievement for a Democrat. She leads all polls. She has gained the support of even those in the military who once doubted her credentials. She has a good working relationship with Republican members of the Senate. With all her support and passion within the party, many still consider her to be the most divisive of the Democratic contenders.

I am concerned about the public policy prescriptions being advocated for leaving Iraq. It will take at least 16 months — and more like 22 — to remove all U.S. troops from the theater of operations. I am clearly in the Democratic minority, but I do not find the prescriptions advocated judicious.

If an ocean liner is sinking, you do not send in a tugboat to rescue the passengers. You send in an armada. You stabilize the ship. You remove the passengers, and you make sure the lifeboats do not sink in the wake of the doomed liner.

The United States promised Iraq stability, and pulling out ad hoc does not provide that. I am aware of the pain of losing sons and daughters. I have been to war. But we must not retreat from being the “watchmen on the walls of world freedom” — despite the pain. Clearly there must also be a renewed effort at diplomacy. The administration is finally doing so with Iran, Syria and the Palestinian Authority — something I advocated long ago.

No matter who wins the election, Iraq and its fallout will be in need of a solution.

A war is raging. The United States needs a president to lead it.

(UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist with seats in Berlin and Prague, he sits on the National Advisory Board of the U.S. Democratic Party.)