Sunday, January 27, 2008

Obama, Kennedy, and Gorbachev

Caroline Kennedy has endorsed Barack Obama for president, in an eloquent, movingly written op-ed in today's New York Times, "A President Like My Father":

Over the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.

My reasons are patriotic, political and personal, and the three are intertwined. All my life, people have told me that my father changed their lives, that they got involved in public service or politics because he asked them to. And the generation he inspired has passed that spirit on to its children. I meet young people who were born long after John F. Kennedy was president, yet who ask me how to live out his ideals.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama. It isn’t that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960.

I have sensed that same rare quality in Obama, although I have my doubts about whether it can withstand the cesspool of self-interest, corruption, and greed that has informed our political leadership for the last eight years. Even though the administration itself will be changing, I fear that much of the harm Pres. Bush has done to the infrastructure of democracy in this country has been institutionalized.

That said, the fact that Caroline Kennedy sees Obama as someone who can inspire Americans in the way that her father did makes me think that maybe he is. After all, who is more qualified to recognize Jack Kennedy's spirit in someone else than his daughter?

Reading Libby's post on CK's endorsement, I think she is struggling with the same mixed feelings:
Back when Acidman was alive I got into a bit of blog fight with some of his fans. He asked which president we would want to date. Actually, I think he put in more physical terms but the theme was who did we find attractive as a man. Rob, rest his soul, was as politically opposite to me as is humanly possible and so were most of his 'wimmen' as he called them. The women were flooding the comment section with heavy sighs over Bush and when I said JFK, they piled on with a vengence.

I emerged from the sea of claws unscathed by reminding them we were talking about physical attraction, not politics, and JFK is the only president I found attractive in that way. Hell, I was 12 years old when he died and I had a huge crush on him. But truthfully, he's the only president that inspired me as a leader as well. History tells us he was a flawed man, but he was so charismatic, when he told us to ask what we could do for our country, we wanted to answer his call and we did.

Today Caroline Kennedy's op-ed endorsing Obama is generating a lot of buzz. I don't think endorsements usually mean all that much, but this one, from our former little princess of Camelot, I think is huge. Caroline clearly inherited her father's eloquence and these sort of comparisons trump all the bought ads in the world.
For myself, I'm still finding it difficult to trust Obama, but I feel that way about all the candidates and since we're going to get stuck with one of them, his ability to inspire the electorate is his best selling point. POTUS is a unique position and no one can really predict how any man or woman will stand up to its rigorous job demands. Perhaps the best we can hope for, is to elect someone who can inspire a disengaged electorate to get involved. It certainly seems better to me than the cynical detachment we have now.

The victory speech Obama gave last night after his huge win in South Carolina certainly sounded Kennedyesque.
I did not travel around this state over the last year and see a white South Carolina or a black South Carolina. I saw South Carolina.

I saw crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children alike. I saw shuttered mills and homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from all walks of life and men and women of every color and creed who serve together and fight together and bleed together under the same proud flag.

I saw what America is and I believe in what this country can be. That is the country I see. That is the country you see. But now it is up to us to help the entire nation embrace this vision.

Because in the end, we're not just against the ingrained and destructive habits of Washington, we're also struggling with our own doubts, our own fears, our own cynicism.

The change we seek has always required great struggle and great sacrifice. And so this is a battle in our own hearts and minds about what kind of country we want and how hard we're willing to work for it.

So let me remind you tonight that change will not be easy. Change will take time. There will be setbacks and false starts and sometimes we'll make mistakes.

But as hard as it may seem, we cannot lose hope, because there are people all across this great nation who are counting on us, who can't afford another four years without health care, that can't afford another four years without good schools, that can't afford another four years without decent wages because our leaders couldn't come together and get it done.

Theirs are the stories and voices we carry on from South Carolina. The mother who can't get Medicaid to cover all the needs of her sick child. She needs us to pass a health care plan that cuts costs and makes health care available and affordable for every single American. That's what she's looking for.

The teacher who works another shift at Dunkin' Donuts after school just to make ends meet, she needs us to reform our education system so that she gets better pay and more support and her students get the resources that they need to achieve their dreams.

The Maytag worker who's now competing with his own teenager for a $7 an hour job at the local Wal-Mart, because the factory he gave his life to shut its doors, he needs us to stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship our jobs overseas and start putting them in the pockets of working Americans who deserve it and put them in the pockets of struggling homeowners who are having a tough time and looking after seniors who should retire with dignity and respect.

That woman who told me that she hasn't been able to breath since the day her nephew left for Iraq or the soldier who doesn't know his child because he's on his third or fourth or even fifth tour of duty, they need us to come together and put an end to a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged.

So understand this, South Carolina. The choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It's not about rich vs. poor, young vs. old. And it is not about black vs. white.

This election is about the past vs. the future. It's about whether we settle for the same divisions and distractions and drama that passes for politics today or whether we reach for a politics of common sense and innovation, a politics of shared sacrifice and shared prosperity.

There are those who will continue to tell us that we can't do this, that we can't have what we're looking for, that we can't have what we want, that we're peddling false hopes. But here is what I know. I know that when people say we can't overcome all the big money and influence in Washington, I think of that elderly woman who sent me a contribution the other day, an envelope that had a money order for $3.01 along with a verse of scripture tucked inside the envelope. So don't tell us change isn't possible. That woman knows change is possible.

When I hear the cynical talk that blacks and whites and Latinos can't join together and work together, I'm reminded of the Latino brothers and sisters I organized with and stood with and fought with side by side for jobs and justice on the streets of Chicago. So don't tell us change can't happen.

When I hear that we'll never overcome the racial divide in our politics, I think about that Republican woman who used to work for Strom Thurmond, who is now devoted to educating inner city-children and who went out into the streets of South Carolina and knocked on doors for this campaign. Don't tell me we can't change.

Yes, we can. Yes, we can change. Yes, we can.

But if Obama gets the nomination and then is elected president, we don't need him to be Kennedy, says Russ Wellen at Scholars and Rogues. We need him to be Gorbachev:

The first to make the “linkage [between Kennedy and Obama] explicit and [give] it official sanction,” according to the Telegraph of London was, Kennedy’s chief speechwriter and long-time associate, Theodore Sorensen.

“Mr Kennedy reached the hearts of voters,” said Sorensen. “And so does Obama.”

He gave short shrift to the “experience” question that dogs Obama. “Judgment is the single most important criterion for selecting a president. . .” which, Sorensen continued, Obama “demonstrated in his position against the Iraq war even before it started.”

It’s one thing when a non-politician who also happens to be Caroline Kennedy, weighs in with a New York Times oped this Sunday bearing the none-too-subtle title, “A President Like My Father.”

“I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them,” she writes. “I believe I have found the man who could be that president.”

But it’s another when experienced Washington hands like not only Sorensen but Gregory Craig, one of Bill Clinton’s impeachment lawyers, who might logically be expected to support Hillary, are swept away by Obama.

“The election of Obama will not only change the players in Washington,” Sorensen said. “It’ll change the game itself.”

Hold on there, old-timer. That’s light years beyond what the election of Kennedy, who was more of a walking, talking zeitgeist than a man with a plan, accomplished. In fact, what Sorensen is conjuring up sounds more like a new Mikhail Gorbachev.

If you're thinking, WTF? read the whole thing. Wellen's thesis is interesting, and it makes sense.

1 comment:

Russ Wellen said...

Thank you, Kathy. Nice blog site. Shall bookmark.