Several years ago, during the peak of the Bush years, I wrote a short post called Heroes which I took down after only a few hours because I felt it was too depressing. It wasn't a particularly deep thought, and it was a drastic oversimplification of reality, but it seemed true on a symbolic level, especially given what at the time seemed the bleak prospect of sanity prevailing in this country any time soon. It went something like this: In some ways, the difference between Republican fortunes and Democratic are a matter of random chance - their hero survived his bullet, and went on to conquer. Bobby didn't, and in many ways the soul of the party died with him in that California ballroom.
Robert Kennedy was killed long before I was born, so my knowledge of the man and his impact - both realized and potential - is purely derived from books. I wasn't there, so I can't truly know what it felt like to watch his rise, only to have the bottom fall out in such a horrific manner. Consequently, I don't have a need to see RFK (or JFK, for that matter) reincarnated in every Democratic figure who begins to show promise.
However, I can't help but see and be affected by the symbolism of Barack Obama officially claiming the Democratic nomination on the 40th anniversary of RFK's death.
It would be idiotic to state that Obama is picking up where Kennedy left off - that would be tantamount to saying that no social progress has been made in this country since 1968, which is patently false. But it is hard not to feel as though we have just witnessed a passing of the torch from one generation of progressives to another - notarized by the endorsement of the last surviving Kennedy brother just before he began fighting what we all fear may be his final battle.
I have always been pretty good at not buying into anyone's hype machine - if everybody starts to say the same thing all at once, I immediately get suspicious - and ornery. But I have to admit, I am more than a little optimistic about the idea of a black man taking control of a party that has been mortally wounded for an entire generation by the deaths of two of the most fierce advocates of the Civil Rights movement, and riding its phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the Bush years all the way to the White House amidst what could potentially be a historic Congressional rejection of the movement conservatism that has reigned since the eighties.
Despite the progressive tendency to project their own visions onto him, Barack Obama is his own man; he is not the incarnation of everyone's hopes and dreams. But that doesn't mean that Denver cannot be the place where the wounds of Chicago are permanently consigned to the history books.