[This is coming half a day late because in my most permanent neighborhood, getting on the web is not a matter of 1,2, turn on the laptop; 3,4, click, click, click and post… Regrets, regards, TOLA.]
After the Democratic Convention in Summer 2004, I wrote four consecutive essays on the US presidential election year: LETTERS TO MY NIECE, I, II, III and IV of which “… (III)” had above title; the last was “… (IV) – Senator Edward Kennedy, “a lion in winter”. Last Monday as I listened to Senator Kennedy’s stirring formal declaration of support for Senator Obama, I knew the title for this week’s essay lay somewhere in the bowel of my desktop or laptop – or one of my old floppies. I must confess, though, that I did consider for a few moments “The fierce urgency of now” & “The Kennedys’ Tradition of ‘Profiles in Courage’ Continues” before deciding that above title is perhaps more timely now than it was back in ‘04. Martin Luther King’s “Fierce urgency of now” and President John F. Kennedy’s book title from long ago, Profiles in Courage, are beloved by Obama.
Watching Senator Kennedy on television talk with passion about Obama after his son, Patrick, and his niece – JFK’s only surviving child – Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg had gone to bat for this son of Africa and America, one could not but praise Senator Kennedy for brushing aside all that had made him refrain from endorsing anybody for President since 1980. Why? These times call for someone of Kennedy’s stature to put an end to the divisive battle being waged by the Clintons. “Hispanics do not traditionally vote for African-Americans”, Hillary has divisively said, a sort of “warning” to Hispanic voters out West to sort of remember Obama’s RACE, and Kennedy’s endorsement among a group that loves him should help temper that inflammatory rhetoric. He’s saying America needs a candidate who will unite all factions of traditionally-rainbow Democratic Party, a party that represents the best in American ideals.
It takes courage to say ‘no’ to the Clintons who are reputedly close to the Massachusetts Senator, to take on the cause of one so ‘new’ to the scene. It’s an endorsement thick in irony and historical significance. In Caroline Kennedy’s speech which contained just about all she had written in an Op-Ed essay in last Sunday New York Times, she hinges her support of Obama – apart from the interest of one of her kids – on a unifying voice from the past: the constant expression of the inspiration that her late father was to many. She believes Obama would give America that same sort of can-do leadership as president. Email boxes of zillions of registered Democrats are welcoming with excitement this past week Senator Kennedy’s fund-raising letter in support of Obama that contains the following flashback to the past:
“As President Kennedy said in 1960, “It is time for a new generation of leadership.” This campaign is about a new generation of leadership today. A generation ready to be part of something bigger than themselves, …a generation ready to change the country… and a generation ready to change the world. Like my son Patrick and my niece Caroline, I have found a new generation of leadership for America in Barack Obama — and I hope you have too!”
What more is there to write about Senator Kennedy that has not been written? If my editor would give a page, I probably could fill it with a rehash of what many have written. Rather, I’ll just pick from my own “… US Votes (IV) …” ’04 essay for readers:
“Senator ‘Ted’ Kennedy is the prince who was destined not to wear the crown; the liberals’ torch bearer who wears the ‘L’ word with pride, a true elder statesman whose constituency remains those Americans least able to help or defend themselves; … a reference point for populist causes in his over three decades in the U.S. Senate and a great orator in his older brothers’ mould. After listening to his rousing ‘call to arms’ speech to the party faithful at the Democratic Convention, a journalist described him as a “lion in winter.” Even as the shadow grows shorter for him, the will remains strong and the capacity to take on what he considers retrogressive causes remains strong. … As a senator, he has possibly had more impact on American life than many presidents … He supports immigration, including compassionate treatment of illegals.
“… even in the worst of times, he can throw in his wit to make a self-deprecating remark heart-wrenching. When the son of JFK died some years ago in his thirties, he was stoic as a father burying a son (though an uncle burying a nephew) could be but in an attempt to lighten up the heavy pall that lay over the entire congregation at New York’s Church of St. Thomas More, he said of John F. Kennedy Jr., among other things: “Once, when they asked John what he would do if he went into politics and was elected president, he said, ‘I guess the first thing is call up Uncle Teddy and gloat.’ I loved that. It was so like his father.”
As his voice eloquently rang out at the American University arena with hundreds of college kids – mostly white – who could not get in the hall waiting outside on a very cold Washington January day, Kennedy threw the total weight of his moral leadership of the Democratic Party behind Obama. Like the true statesman that he’s worked hard to become, he praised Senators Hillary Clinton and John Edwards but it’s Obama – whom he described in glowing terms – that he’s supporting for his ability to attract for the Democrats a new generation of Americans.
Kennedys do not shy from a cause simply because it is unpopular. Right now, President Chavez is not popular in Washington because of his “devil was here last night … yes, right here … ” speech at the UN about a year ago the day after President Bush. Now, Robert Kennedy, Jr. (late Senator Robert Kennedy’s son) is fighting back in response to his getting cheap/free heating home fuel to the very poor in America from Chavez’ Venezuela: “ … the shame” is that poor people have to sleep in homes without heat”, he says in advertisements.
And Obama’s quest? What struck me back in 2004 as I listened to him on tv – his grasp of the issues; his intelligence, his oratorical skills, his grace and an ability to fire up a crowd – are the same traits that people have come to expect of him. I wish to share with readers some excerpts from LETTERS … (III) from 2004:
“About two weeks before the Democratic Convention last month, I was watching an early news program when I saw Mike Ditka who used to coach the Chicago Bears of the American football franchise. … only big-time news items get air time in the world of sound bites that the major network news of the American television industry have become, and Ditka is no longer a coach even though a Hall of Famer . His appearance on the ‘CBS’ Evening News … therefore piqued my interest. … the Republican Party was wooing him to run for Senate as opponent of A Barrack Obama …
“Later that day, I went on the Web to find out about ‘Obama’. … I was expecting the bio of someone like Kwesi Mfume, politician turned head of the NAACP; … who chose African name for cultural reasons. Lo and behold, Obama is an African-American … Let me mention that the next morning, I saw another Ditka item: that he had said no, thank you very much to the GOP! Who is Obama, and what in the world scared Ditka enough …?
“Rather than who, I think the question should be ‘what’ is Barrack Obama because I believe he represents an idea … that the Democrats have needed for a long time. … his ability to sell the Democrats’ message, may be more than most in recent memory.
“Obama remembers his (political) roots: Roosevelt’s post World War Two New Deal … Unlike most Democrats, he is not afraid or reluctant to talk about big things for fear of being labeled tax-and-spend advocate. He preaches globalization: “I want India and China to succeed,” he has reportedly said of outsourcing of jobs … He believes Americans want globalization as evident from their consumer preferences and believes instead of protectionism, America must fight to win her share of globalization by training her workers and equipping them … to compete. His address … hammered on the fact that most Americans would rather have a united States, one America where party affiliations, religious beliefs, color, economic status are mainly components of a bigger unit.
“People are already seeing far into the future for this son of an immigrant; step-son of another immigrant AND son of a Kansas mother: the first African-American President of the U.S. He says: ‘ not so fast’, and I say, if not you, then who, putting a twist on Tracy Chapman’s “If not now, then when?”
Fast forward to 2008. Obama may still be way behind Hillary Clinton in the polls but that may not be for long. The Senator from New York and former President Clinton seem baffled by the temerity of Obama to the well laid-out plans of their political machine. I’ve always liked Republican Arizona Senator McCain, and an Obama/McCain showdown would be a battle of two independent-thinking and level-headed Americans. I say, bring ‘em on!
[Excerpts from The Comet on Sunday, August 2004.]
NOTE: The Comet became The Nation for which this essay with the excerpt was written in February of election year 2008.]
FRIDAY: ’Take America Back’ (3): U.S. Elections ’08 & Slavery, A book Review