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Why We Need the Spirit of Bobby Kennedy Now

Summary:
The ongoing pandemic isn’t the first time the United States has had to confront its collective pathologies. In March 1968, US Senator Robert F. Kennedy, running for president, delivered a campaign address that is no less relevant today. NEW YORK – As a hospital physician in New York City, I see the clinical impact of COVID-19 daily: failed lungs, inflamed hearts, and blocked blood vessels. But, in the United States, the coronavirus is also a symptom of a more pervasive and enduring malady: a culture and political economy that are deeply broken and dangerously unequal, and a country that has not come to terms with its legacy of racism. America’s Mis-Police State

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The ongoing pandemic isn’t the first time the United States has had to confront its collective pathologies. In March 1968, US Senator Robert F. Kennedy, running for president, delivered a campaign address that is no less relevant today.

NEW YORK – As a hospital physician in New York City, I see the clinical impact of COVID-19 daily: failed lungs, inflamed hearts, and blocked blood vessels. But, in the United States, the coronavirus is also a symptom of a more pervasive and enduring malady: a culture and political economy that are deeply broken and dangerously unequal, and a country that has not come to terms with its legacy of racism.

The ongoing pandemic isn’t the first time the US has had to confront its collective pathologies. In 1968, the social and political tumult then gripping the country seemed to deepen. That spring, the country was reeling from divisions over the Vietnam War. Nonviolent civil-rights protests had given way to rioting in the country’s cities that mirrors our current moment. And the economic depredations driving the civil-rights movement became more obvious, as sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike for safer conditions (an episode with clear parallels today).

That March, US Senator Robert F. Kennedy, running for president, delivered his second campaign address. His words ring no less true today. “Even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task,” he said to an overflow crowd at the University of Kansas’s Allen Fieldhouse. “It is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.”

Kennedy’s words still resonate. They revealed a simple truth that the COVID-19 pandemic also has laid bare: our emphasis on wealth and material culture at any cost reflects values that impede efforts to contain the virus’s spread.

The paradoxes are obvious. Americans are aghast at their country’s poor response to the pandemic. Yet we have spent decades underinvesting in public-health infrastructure and preparedness. Public health accounts for only 2.5% of US health-care spending. Novelist Arundhati Roy recently wondered whether there would be a shortage of equipment if the US required bombs, not masks. Her question is borne out by fully...

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