Edward Kennedy recommended Barack Obama today as a “president who refuses to be trapped in the patterns of the past.” And one does admire the quaintness of this sentiment coming from the scrofulous mastodon of American liberalism who has never missed an opportunity to invoke that ancient and sorry filial myth, “Camelot.” The senior senator of Massachuttsetts admitted that his endorsement of Obama was guided along by his niece Caroline, who penned a cringe-inducing
editorial in the New York Times this weekend comparing the Democratic candidate to her father. “We need a change in the leadership of this country,” Ms. Kennedy noted somewhat prosaically, “just as we did in 1960.” The need for a change in leadership comes along, courtesy of the Constitution, at least every eight years, but somehow this cycle is of the same urgency as the one nearly half a century ago. How’s that for refusing to stay trapped in patterns of the past?
Obama might have paused a minute or two before professing his gratitude and humility at these clannish assurances. What’s he being compared to, exactly? A president whose political career was purchased by a bootlegging patriarch with a soft spot for Adolf Hitler. A candidate who ran against Richard Nixon from the right on national security, pointing to a phantom “missile gap” between the United States and the Soviet Union. The architect of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the initiator of the Vietnam War. A commander in chief so addicted to painkillers that his recent biographers have shuddered to think of his conduct of statecraft under such intoxicated conditions. A president who lied to Congress about the deal ultimately struck with Khrushchev for the removal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviet striking of its own arsenal from Cuba. The bedmate of not only Marilyn Monroe but also Judith Exner, the girlfriend of mafia don Sam Giacana, whose underworld contingent carried out America’s hemispheric foreign policy for a spell. A civil rights proponent who nonetheless tried to get the March on Washington called off because of his thralldom to two glowering elements of the body politic — Southern Dixiecrats, who helped get him elected, and J. Edgar Hoover, who knew all his dirty little secrets and didn’t much care for Martin Luther King’s “dream.”
One could go on in this Arthurian vein before realizing that the pounding seasonal question, “Will we never be rid of this insufferable family?” applies now not only to the Clintons.
John Nicholas at The Nation says the Kennedys still have clout, all right: “Caroline Kennedy, as JFK’s relatively apolitical daughter, brings a piece of the mantle to the Obama campaign. Ted Kennedy, as JFK’s very political brother, brings the rest of it. Even if other members of the clan back the campaign of Hillary Clinton — as Robert Kennedy Jr., did in November — the combination of endorsements from Caroline and Ted effectively delivers the family name to Obama.”
Slate‘s Christopher Beam shrewdly points out: “As chairman of the health, education, labor, and pensions committee, [Kennedy] sits at the center of any, well, health-care, education, or labor overhauls undertaken by a potential Clinton administration. Maintaining good relations is in his interest, and neutrality would have been a perfectly acceptable stance. That he rebuffed overtures from Bill Clinton makes the endorsement all the more a repudiation of his wife’s candidacy.”
“Latinos, who have strongly favored Clinton so far, are well-represented in the big states voting on February 5,” notes Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic. “And while Kennedy’s endorsement alone surely isn’t enough to swing a whole state like New Jersey or California, it might be enough to shift enough votes to change delegate counts — which is what really matters at this point.”
The Atlantic‘s Marc Ambinders thinks: “In some ways, there may be no member of the Democratic pantheon who better reflects the consensus-based, transformative and activist-oriented politics that Obama embraces.”
The American Prospect‘s Ezra Klein is impressed, particularly with the timing of the endorsement: “Obama isn’t even the frontrunner, and they’re endorsing at the most critical, contentious, controversial time, the sort of moment when Clinton would beg them to keep quiet, offer them anything in exchange for support or even neutrality. The Clinton machine like so many machines, is more myth than fact. Bill Clinton can get a lot of media coverage, and the operatives around them know how to run a campaign, but there’s nothing particularly fearsome or unassailable about their organization.”
And Commentary‘s Daniel Casse is waiting for one more Obama stumper to emerge: “Don’t think for a moment that Gore isn’t considering it. What happened this weekend was the most dramatic change of tenor we have seen since Iowa caucus night. A new front opened up in the Democratic primary race. Hillary Clinton is no longer just battling Obama. She is defending the legitimacy of the Clinton era against all those who know it and are sick of it. A Gore endorsement of the rival to the wife of the man who made him vice president would be an unprecedented blow.”
Michael Weiss is the New York Editor of Pajamas Media. His blog is Snarksmith.