Common complaints about those who run for office are the promises they make and do not keep, their unwillingness to stand for something and their reliance upon negative campaigning, especially through 30-second spot ads on television.
Recent political campaigns have featured promises in which the public has been told by candidates of both major parties what they want to hear. Nixon promised “peace with honor” in Viet Nam, Carter said he “would never lie” to us and George H. W. Bush told us there would be “no new taxes.”
Candidates offering the most appealing promises have tended to win and have had to focus on keeping them. Some promises have been kept and others not. But it hasn’t always been this way.
Robert Kennedy campaigned for president in 1968 by telling audiences what they did not want to hear: to a group of college students, he said he favored removing the deferment that students had from the draft.
Yet he claimed students as one of his biggest constituencies on election day.
Advisors told Robert Kennedy not to speak to a mostly black audience in Indianapolis after it was revealed that a white man was accused of murdering Martin Luther King, Jr. They told him the crowd could form into a mob and injure or even kill him and others present.
Yet he gave the speech, anyway. Not only did no one harm him, but on that fateful day, Indianapolis was the only major city in the whole United States that did not have rioting.
His opponents used what was then a relatively new forum with which to campaign, television advertising. But Robert Kennedy did not like this approach because he could not articulate the ideas that he based his campaign upon, such as ending the United States involvement in Viet Nam, reducing poverty and promoting civil rights for all.
So he frequently used 30-minute, rather than 30-second advertisements. They worked to help him to detail and clarify his positions and how he would lead the United States if elected.
Kennedy’s campaign of 1968 should inspire us because he chose to run his campaign by what he believed was right, regardless of the consequences. His willingness to do the unpopular and even the unthinkable showed a solid grasp of self-knowledge and gave the voters confidence of his integrity to principle had he avoided the assassin’s bullet and won election.