So, the Seattle Times has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. Big deal. Next week they’ll also endorse Sen. John McCain on the Republican side. If the Times really embraces the kind of change they believe Obama represents, they wouldn’t endorse anybody for the Republican nomination, least of all a warmonger whose idea of straight talk is promising crowds “there will be other wars.”
Personally, I doubt many Washington state Democrats are looking to the op-ed pages for advice on who to caucus for on February 9, but if they are, I’m guessing the most influential endorsement of the primary season may have come today in the New York Times, and I’m not talking about an unsigned editorial. No, the big news following Obama’s impressive 29-point rout of Hillary Clinton in yesterday’s South Carolina primary was the moving op-ed column written by Caroline Kennedy, “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.
[...] I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.
I suppose I might have a reputation for being a hard-edged cynic, but my eyes actually teared up a bit when I first read Kennedy’s words. I so desperately want to believe what she believes, that Obama really does have that “special ability” to inspire and to lead and to bring us back together as a nation. I fully understand her father was just a man, as flawed as any, but that doesn’t diminish President Kennedy’s impact as a leader, however symbolic, and I too long for a president who can inspire me the way so many of my parent’s generation were inspired by him.
As both a liberal and an American, I have long felt cheated by history… robbed of a promising future by a handful of assassins’ bullets. Had President Kennedy lived to complete his terms, might we have avoided the mistakes that led to an all out involvement in Vietnam, a war that divided our nation and drained us of precious blood and treasure? Had Bobby Kennedy survived to win the White House, would American liberalism have survived to finally achieve the vision of economic justice and security first enunciated by FDR, and wouldn’t Americans have retained the faith in government that carried us through the Great Depression and World War II, rather than seeing that faith shattered by the betrayal that was Watergate? Had Martin Luther King Jr. lived to guide our nation to the Promised Land, rather than just glimpsing it from some far-off mountain top, would the Republican Party have been free to so ruthlessly exploit Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” to advance their selfish, conservative agenda?
My critics like to characterize me as some wide-eyed, lefty moonbat, but I’m nothing more or less than a 1970’s-era centrist who has been radicalized in style if not in substance by a decades-long, right-wing campaign to defile the proud legacy of American liberalism, and to brand its adherents as idiots, ideologues, traitors and worse. The radicalized middle from which I come did not lightly seize on unbridled partisanship as our political weapon of choice, but that is the weapon that has been used to cudgel us into submission for far too long. That the fierceness of the netroots and the new progressive movement to which it belongs frightens the political and media establishment, is understandable, but there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that our aggressive rhetoric and tactics have not played a significant role in our recent electoral victories. Only now that a netroots-powered Democratic majority is on the verge of seizing unchallenged control of the federal government, do we hear a renewed call for bipartisanship… and that is why I wince every time I hear Obama echoing their frame.
When Obama talks about reaching his hand across the aisle, the cynic in me envisions the other side leaping at the opportunity to lop it off. When Obama talks about bipartisanship, I fear it means willingly sacrificing the very political advantages we have fought so hard to achieve. It’s not that I don’t trust Obama, it’s just that I don’t trust the Republican leadership to reciprocate in kind… not these Republicans… not the party that so joyously swiftboated a war hero, and took a man who left three limbs on the battlefield and morphed him into Osama bin Laden. Hardened by decades of partisan, political war, I admit to finding a certain degree of solace in the more calculating nature of Hilary Clinton — the very same quality that appears to turn off so many other voters. Better to be calculating than naive.
That said, I want to believe, like Caroline Kennedy, in the promise of Obama. I want a president who I don’t simply admire, but one who I find truly inspirational. I want my eyes to fill with tears, not at the thought of what might have been, but what can be. And not since Mario Cuomo ended his flirtation with a White House bid back in 1991 have I found a presidential candidate who offers me this hope.
Tomorrow, Sen. Ted Kennedy will appear with his niece at a rally in Washington D.C., to announce his endorsement of Barack Obama, and to personally pass the torch of Camelot on to a new generation. No doubt the right will take the opportunity to vilify Sen. Kennedy in the hope that some of their ridicule might rub off on the man he supports, but in doing so they perilously dismiss the power of symbolism, for even Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” was a reference to Camelot, and an attempt to co-opt the aura of the Kennedy era as his own.
Perhaps Camelot was always only a dream, but that doesn’t mean it can’t someday come true. Tomorrow, Barack Obama, surrounded by his beautiful wife and young children, standing beside the daughter and brother of the fallen king, has an unprecedented opportunity to rekindle this dream in the hearts of Americans. It is an opportunity to restore the faith of even hardened cynics like me.