The brief post I did yesterday on Ted Kennedy’s April 7, 1968 speech to the Alaska state Democratic convention didn’t really do it justice. It’s a grainy black-and-white film but the audio of Kennedy’s lilting Boston accent is clear, and the speech Kennedy delivers, which I was not familiar with until yesterday, stands even 40 years later as a close-to-perfect expression of modern American liberalism.
To set the scene, Martin Luther King had been assassinated on April 4, a Thursday. Sen. Robert Kennedy, then campaigning for the Presidency was supposed to address the convention on that following Sunday in Sitka, but sent his brother instead so he could monitor violence in the wake of King’s murder. Robert’s own murder would come just two months later.
So the speech comes at a momentous time. Yet even in the heat of that moment, the speech transcends the shock of recent events. I assume it was written for Robert to deliver, but Ted delivers it was a seriousness and forcefulness that belies his age at the time: 36.
Maybe I’m falling into the trap of inflating the significance of the deceased’s life, but the speech is so well-written and powerfully delivered that it deserves consideration among the great American political speeches. Fast-forward to the 5:20 mark, where Kennedy uses the King assassination to launch into his passionate assertion and defense of liberalism.
David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.