February 1st, 2008
BARAK AS JFK AND OTHER CONFUSIONS
I don’t recall who said it first, but anyone who follows the 2008 campaigns for President of the United States of America will have heard that “Politics is not bean bag,” followed by its corollary, “Politics is hardball.” This year no cliché will be left unsaid or unused, which is okay with me. They usefully serve as shorthand to convey hard earned lessons to casual voters based on past political wins and losses.
There are two major stories leading up to the February 5th Super Tuesday Democratic primaries in twenty-two states beginning with Senator Obama’s win in South Carolina followed by the thump of a loud endorsement from Senator Ted Kennedy. Let the clichés roll on with this one for Barak, “Be careful what you wish for.” Historically, endorsements don’t count for much with voters. However, where they do count is in a column called political favors: You rub my back and I’ll rub yours.
The first question to ask following a surprise endorsement like Kennedy’s is, “why did he do that?” After four decades in the senate it’s not like he needs a new friend. His re-election to one six-year term after another has not been threatened in his home state of Massachusetts since he won the seat held by his older brother, Jack. Famously, his first primary opponent, Attorney General Eddie McCormack, told a young Teddy Kennedy in a debate that if his name were Edward Moore, Teddy’s middle name, his candidacy would be a joke. The Kennedy name was not a joke in Massachusetts, Ted’s brother was president and McCormack lost despite a long public service resume`.
Regarding Ted’s motives, one answer may be found in a conversation I heard between political power brokers years ago. They were discussing an officeholder of little depth that they had helped to elect. “Yeah, “ one agreed, “he’s a bit of a jerk. But, he’s our jerk!” So, Kennedy’s endorsement could be a back door ploy to become a power behind the throne. Teddy’s own path to the senate was engineered. After his brother was elected president his Massachusetts senate seat was kept warm at the President’s request, “to preserve party unity.” Thus, Democratic Governor Foster Furcolo named Benjamin A. Smith II, JFK’s college roommate, to serve out Jack’s term. Ted, just old enough at thirty, ran and won the 1962 election to succeed Smith.
On the day following his endorsement, Senator Ted Kennedy and Barak Obama appeared together on the NBC “Today” show. Matt Lauer asked Kennedy if he was “still friends with the Clintons?” Of course, Ted replied, and promised to support whichever of the Democratic candidates ended up with the nomination of their party. With friends like that who needs enemies? President Truman advised his fellows, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton was taken too far aback by her friend Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of her opponent. That politics make strange bedfellows is one more truism for the commentators, who stole it from Shakespeare’s Tempest. Will had it; “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” This year’s campaign turns the page from Will Shakespeare to Will Rogers who confessed, “I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”
“Now the fun begins, “ said Hillary a few weeks ago when the Democratic primary competition heated up. That doesn’t sound to me like a candidate who might be in need of smelling salts anytime soon. That her husband, former president Bill Clinton, is outspoken in her support should surprise no one. Her opponents spin that Bill’s words are too harsh. But President Clinton is carrying on the tradition of feisty Democrats like Harry Truman who, running against long odds and a confident Thomas Dewey in 1948, said of the GOP: “I don’t give them Hell, I just tell the truth and they think it’s Hell.”
I don’t have the perfect answer for friends and family who ask my preference. I intend to vote for the person offering the best solutions to the great problems this nation is facing and will face in coming years. And, like Ted Kennedy, I will bow to the primary voters’ will and vigorously back the Democratic nominee, praying that they get elected.
Because, as sociologist Reverend Andrew Greeley said at UMass/Amherst last fall about his surveys on the power of prayer by people of faith, and of no faith, “It can’t hurt!”