Why the world loves Kennedys, not Bushes

Published July 29, 2004 7:33PM (EDT)

Like every speaker this week, Bobby Kennedy Jr. was asked by convention organizers to tone down his speech on Wednesday evening. "I didn't," said the charismatic environmental leader. Unlike Al Sharpton, Kennedy didn't go over his allotted time, but he did go off the teleprompter. "I understand the party's reasons for trying to control the convention -- they're dealing with a hostile media that's searching for a way to paint the Democrats as radical. You know the Fox News line -- 'the only thing holding this party together is its hatred of President Bush.' So I understand it, but unfortunately it makes for a much less interesting convention." Even Teddy Kennedy, whose former chief of staff Mary Beth Cahill gave the convention its marching orders in her current role as Kerry's campaign chief, had to trim his sails onstage Tuesday. "He would have liked nothing better than making a red-meat speech," said Bobby of his uncle.

We chatted with Bobby over scrambled eggs and muffins in the dining room of the Parker House Hotel, as a stream of Pennsylvania and New Jersey delegates spilled in from the lobby. Like everyone else in Boston this week, the Parker House likes to advertise its Kennedy connection, with old photos in the lobby of young Jack Kennedy celebrating his election to Congress with grandpa Honey Fitz and brochures pointing out that this elegant old Boston landmark is where JFK proposed to Jackie. Bobby said the week has been filled with wonderful emotions for him. "I brought my six kids with me and everywhere we go, we're stopped by people on the street who want to shake our hands and share their memories of my family. It's very touching and it's wonderful for my kids to see it and take pride in it. There is such a deep wellspring of freedom, democracy, compassion, and justice in this city and the Kennedys have been able to take this out to the world."

Of course, this is not how the Republican Party and Fox News are portraying the Kennedy family and their hometown this week. "They've definitely targeted Teddy," Bobby said. The Bush government -- which Bobby has argued fits the classic definition of fascism, with its corporatist ideology and bellicose policies -- is not too crazy about the younger Kennedy either. But the attacks on him and his "ultra-liberal" family don't bother him. "I have a thick skin, it's just part of the business I'm in. In a war, people throw bombs."

Kennedy believes that the campaign to remove "the Bush gang" from the White House does indeed have the urgency of a war. A senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and president of Waterkeeper Alliance, Kennedy has authored a new book called "Crimes Against Nature" that offers a passionate indictment of the wholesale takeover of the federal government under Bush by the country's biggest polluters. With Bush eliminating the country's system of environmental protection, we're literally fighting for our lives, said Bobby, especially those like three of his children, whose asthma robs their breath on high air-pollution days. "For me, getting rid of Bush is the only issue this year. I've been doing environmental litigation all these years and we've won three major cases. But the White House overturned all three. It doesn't matter what you do on the ground, because we've got a White House that is completely in the possession of the big polluters."

Like many other leading activists, Kennedy, who has been campaigning hard for old family friend John Kerry, tried but failed to persuade Ralph Nader not to run for president this year. "It's like talking to an insane person, he's just not susceptible to reason. He's demonstrably made it worse in this country by giving us George W. Bush and he's trying to do it again. His supporters are seduced by his critique of the political system, which is basically correct. It's true that the Republican Party is about 90 percent corrupt and the Democrats are about 50 or 60 percent. But he's wrong that he's the solution. The solution is campaign finance reform and resurrection of the fairness doctrine so the public can take back control of the media. And those solutions can only come from within the Democratic Party."

Another four years of George Bush would be a nightmare for America, said Bobby. "When I was kid, I went all over the world with my father and my uncle and everywhere we went, they were greeted by throngs of people, thousands and thousands of people reaching out to touch them. Europeans proudly named streets after our presidents, Roosevelt, Kennedy. Our country was adored, these people were desperate for our leadership and for our moral authority, which took nearly 250 years to build. And in just three-and-a-half years this president has destroyed that."

If a President John Kerry is to restore America's good name, as well as its natural resources, many in activist circles think Bobby Kennedy Jr. should be high on his list of appointees.

By David Talbot

David Talbot, the founder of Salon, is the author of New York Times bestsellers like "Brothers," "The Devil's Chessboard," and "Season of the Witch." His most recent book is "Between Heaven and Hell: The Story of My Stroke."

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