But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another great task. It is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – a lack of purpose and dignity – that inflicts us all. Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.
Our gross national product [is] now over eight hundred billion dollars a year, but that GNP – if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
If this is true at home, so it is true elsewhere in the world. From the beginning, our proudest boast was that we, here in this country, would be the best hope for all of mankind. And now, as we look at the war in Vietnam, we wonder if we still hold a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, and whether they have maintained a decent respect for us, or whether like Athens of old, we will forfeit sympathy and support, and ultimately security, in a single-minded pursuit of our own goals and our own objectives.
Robert F. Kennedy
University of Kansas
March 18, 1968
at the start of his campaign for the Presidency