Monday, January 28, 2008

The Torch Has Been Passed

Whenever a young, articulate and idealistic politician bursts onto the scene, the Kennedy comparisons (however inappropriate) are inevitable. It stems from a yearning to move beyond the destructive political climate of the present that generates only apathy and disconnect, and to return to a time when we were genuinely inspired to greatness by our elected leadership.

But as we know too well, that leadership is incredibly rare. You may sense it with a gut feeling during a speech or maybe a proud moment during a debate, but there’s much more to it than that. It is a feeling that usually fades as quickly as it comes, but sometimes, those rarest of times, it grows stronger as a message begins to resonate. And as that message resonates with more and more Americans, it becomes a movement that transcends the moment. That is Kennedy-esque. And whether you agree with his policies or not, that is Barack Obama.

The implications of the recent Kennedy endorsement of Obama speak directly to that. In the words of Caroline Kennedy (who felt strongly enough to endorse her first candidate in 30 years), “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.” In the words of Ted Kennedy, "I've seen it. I've lived it. And with Barack Obama, we can do it again."

But the implications of the Kennedy endorsement also speak directly to Bill and Hillary Clinton. When Hillary left South Carolina to campaign in Super Tuesday states, the former president was left behind to do his dirty work. He didn’t disappoint. With one horde of media trailing behind Hillary and one behind the former president, it was two against one. The attention grew as the attacks became more outlandish and more personal. When asked if it was inappropriate, the former president turned his guns on the media for taking sides and then inappropriately (and remarkably) refused to answer the question and chose to downplay the appeal of Obama by referring to Jesse Jackson’s success over 20 years ago. It was a blatant inference that race alone was what carried Obama to victory in South Carolina. To once again pull the race card was unbecoming of any campaign surrogate, and it was certainly beneath the dignity of a former President.

Drawn from his neutral seat on the sidelines, Ted Kennedy reportedly grew increasingly angry by the tone of the Clinton campaign and was instrumental in bringing about the truce between the two candidates around the time of the Nevada debate. The remarks of President Clinton in South Carolina likely brought him off the sidelines.

In giving his endorsement, Kennedy – perhaps the only Democrat with the gravitas to go toe to toe with the former President - came out swinging. "From the beginning, (Obama) opposed the war in Iraq. And let no one deny that truth." To counter Hillary, Kennedy (one of the longest-serving Members in the history of the Senate) claimed that Obama would be ready for the Presidency on “day one.” He went on to say that "what counts in our leadership is not the length of years in Washington, but the reach of our vision, the strength of our beliefs, and that rare quality of mind and spirit that can call forth the best in our country and the best in our world."

In contrast to the Clintons, he claimed that Obama “will be a president who refuses to be trapped in the patterns of the past. He is a leader who sees the world clearly without being cynical. He is a fighter who cares passionately about the causes he believes in without demonizing those who hold a different view.

A growing number of Americans, particularly Democrats, are coming to realize that the Clintons would govern as they campaign – you’re either with them or you’re against them. We long to move beyond the divisiveness that has paralyzed our government and that has filtered down to our communities, but it's becoming clear that we would see no reprieve as the nation transitioned from a Bush presidency to another Clinton presidency.

Rumors of the Clinton campaign reigning in on the former president are inevitable but will not likely lead to much. It raises the question – if Bill Clinton can’t be kept under wraps during the campaign, what role will he - an unelected and unaccountable figure – play if he moves back into the White House? Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Hillary will want it both ways – to portray herself as a strong woman running on her own while essentially cowering behind a husband who continues to wage attacks, spout nonsense, and monopolize the headlines.

With a keen perspective of history, Ted Kennedy knows that America is ready to move on: “There was another time, when another young candidate was running for president and challenging America to cross a new frontier. He faced criticism from the preceding Democratic president, who was widely respected in the party. And John Kennedy replied: ‘The world is changing. The old ways will not do. It is time for a new generation of leadership.’ So it is, with Barack Obama.”

1 comment:

Marli said...

Down with the paranoid and divisive politics of the Clintons...they are smart people who promote good policy, but there's a reason the public is weary (and wary) of them, and it's only January.

This country needs to seize the moment. My senator, who works effectively across party lines and has been amazingly supportive of the Clintons in the past, knows that the only person to deliver what we need is the bright, intellectually curious, barrier-breaking, division-uniting Senator from Illinois. (And I don't mean Dick Durbin.)