Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Kennedy endorsement

The Kennedy family's anointing of Barack Obama as the true heir of JFK must be particularly galling to Bill Clinton. He was supposed to be the Second Coming of JFK. Bill's most cherished political (and personal?) icon is the photograph of himself at Boys Nation, shaking hands with President Kennedy.
Barackomania seems to be another recurrence of America's quest for a knight in shining armor. Whether Obama can fulfill that role for longer than it takes some intrepid investigative reporter (with help from James Carville) to expose details of the Senator's days in the Illinois legislature is a good question. Obama's similarities to JFK are few. Kennedy represented generational change. He had interesting rhetoric but was vague on details. Both come from ethnic groups that one can argue are on the verge of assimilation into mainstream America. (See, for example, How the Irish Became White.) But beyond that?
JFK was a war hero, fifteen years after the end of the Good War. I'd argue that much of his popularity while in office resulted from the Cuban Missile crisis, (just as George W. Bush enjoyed a surge of support after 9-11.) He captured our imagination with the Apollo program. Our guesses on what Kennedy would have done, had he lived, on Vietnam, civil rights, and economic policy, depend as much on our own political views as on any real knowledge of the choices he would have made. Kennedy only became a god after his assasination. That is not a model that many would choose to emulate.

Caroline Kennedy's endorsement of Senator Obama invokes our memories of her father and our dreams of Camelot. But for thirty years, Ted Kennedy's name and his legislative ideas have beene a key component of successful Republican fund raising letters. Senator Kennedy's endorsement may win Obama the nomination; but he will need to distance himself from the Ted Kennedy wing of the Democratic party to win in November.

Quests for knights in shining armor- whether one is looking for a spouse or a Presdent- tend to end badly. Let's hope for a gentle letdown from Barackomania.

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