Forty years ago, in 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy started his campaign for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, he made a point to travel to what today would be considered "red" states. Five days after he announced his candidacy, he visited Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. At the University of Alabama, Kennedy said:
I have come here because I seek to join with you in building a better country and a united country. And I come to Alabama because I need your help. This election will mean nothing if it leaves us, after it is all over, as divided as we were when it began. We have to begin to put our country together again. So I believe that any who seek high office this year must go before all Americans: Not just those who agree with them, but also those who disagree; recognizing that it is not just our supporters, not just those who vote for us, but all Americans, who we must lead in the difficult years ahead. And this is why I have come, at the outset of my campaign, not New York or Chicago or Boston, but here to Alabama.
Barack Obama, in his victory speech last night following the Iowa caucuses, struck similar chords. He made an impassioned appeal to voters in "blue" states as well as "red" states. His primary campaigns have a grassroots fervor not seen in American politics since 1968, and he has sparked a nerve among young people who desire to move their country in a new direction away from the dismal politics of inaction, limitation, and scarcity to a new politics of hope and collective effort toward building a better future. It took forty years but perhaps today with Barack Obama we are seeing the continuation of the project that Robert Kennedy started in 1968.
In 1968, when Kennedy was gaining momentum and piling up primary victories it looked as though he would win the presidential nomination. But before he could be safely ensconced inside "the bubble" of 24-hour federal protection he was assassinated. And his progressive challenge to the war in Vietnam and to poverty at home was stopped in its tracks.
In 2008, Obama is gaining momentum, and hopefully people inside his organization are cognizant of the fact that he constitutes a very real threat to the likes of Blackwater, Dyncorps, Halliburton, and the hundreds of other private companies currently profiteering from the Iraq occupation.
Blackwater, that reactionary private mercenary outfit headed by the right-wing Christian nationalist Erik Prince stands to lose big time with an Obama presidency. Under George W. Bush Blackwater went from a marginal company with about $27 million in government contracts to a behemoth currently receiving over $1 billion in federal largesse.
It was revealed after the massacre of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad by Blackwater mercenaries that the U.S. State Department cannot function in Iraq without the services of the well-connected private company. Blackwater has a lot riding financially on keeping the Iraq occupation going and a lot to lose if it is ended. (Please read Jeremy Scahill's book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.)
Under an Obama Administration Blackwater would no doubt be cut down to size along with Bush's other crony capitalist entities. The Blackwater Boys no doubt have close friends and ideological soul mates deep inside the federal security services.
In 1968, immediately following the killing of Robert Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson signed an executive order providing Secret Service protection to all viable presidential candidates. His decision came as a result of the RFK assassination. But it was too late to prevent a tiny piece of lead from disfranchising millions of American voters.
Let's hope that the Blackwater elements can be thoroughly flushed out of the federal security services. Let's also hope that the Secret Service does a better job protecting Obama in the coming election year than Pakistan's ISI did in protecting Benazir Bhutto who didn't live to see election day.
What must be done with Blackwater is what President John F. Kennedy said he wanted to do with the CIA following the Bay of Pigs disaster: Tear it up into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the wind. FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and JFK are rolling in their graves at the privatizing of the armed forces that George W. Bush has rammed through. With privatization comes a lack of control on the part of the government over its own military and security services. Bush gave Blackwater and companies like it a free ride on the government's dime and they no doubt want the gravy train to continue. Obama promises to apply the brakes. He therefore has some well-armed and lethally trained enemies that stand to lose their livelihoods if he follows through on his promise to end the Iraq occupation.
When the political winds blow toward radical change our recent history shows that there's a tendency for popular leaders on the left to face some form of unexplained tragedy. Let's hope the primary campaigns of 2008 only mirror those of 1968 in their grassroots energy, enthusiasm, and vision for the future.