The man of hope has beaten the man from Hope (and possibly his wife). The endorsement of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign by three Kennedys from different generations was a political trifecta for the young upstart from Illinois. He is not to be confused with Sen. Hillary Clinton who is from Illinois, Arkansas, New York or wherever you want her to be.
The contrast of sincerity (Mr. Obama) with insincerity (Hillary and Bill Clinton) could not be starker. Critics can say that “Camelot” was a myth created after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but it is a powerful myth and to see Ted, Caroline and Patrick Kennedy standing on the same stage together at American University endorsing Mr. Obama brought the myth back for those of us old enough to have lived through it. It also inspired younger people who want to believe politics can still have purpose.
There is nothing wrong with myth so long as it does not obliterate reality. We like our fairy tales. The film “Enchanted” is doing well at the box office. But the Kennedy endorsement is more than myth. It represents a potential divorce between the Democratic establishment and the Clintons.
Recall the early 1990s. Democrats were desperate for a presidential candidate who could take back the White House after 12 years of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. They rejected the establishment and chose a little-known governor from a small state who Republicans would have difficulty sliming as a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Bill Clinton was part of the new Democratic Leadership Council, which bills itself on its Web page as “an idea center, catalyst, and national voice for a reform movement that is reshaping American politics by moving it beyond the old left-right debate.”
It was a shotgun wedding between the old Left and new moderates within the party, some of whom hid their liberalism behind moderate rhetoric for political gain. Now the old Left wants the party back and the endorsement by the Kennedys is the opening salvo.
The trouble with using people is that when someone better comes along, you get dropped like a bad habit, or like a woman who believes Bill Clinton will call her in the morning. Liberal Democrats don’t need the Clintons anymore. They think the Republican field is weak and the time to retake their party and the government is now.
There can be no question that Mr. Obama is the most exciting political orator for Democrats since John F. Kennedy. Notice in Caroline Kennedy’s endorsement how she skipped over Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and even Bill Clinton (not to mention, which she also didn’t, Ronald Reagan) as inspirational leaders. What a slap in the face to the Clintons. Caroline Kennedy, though a liberal, has class, but the Clintons know little about such things, as they troll for power and personal advancement, obliterating all who get in their way. They define the politics of personal destruction.
Will this split have the same result as the Kennedy-Carter clash in 1980, which involved another former Southern governor and ended with a Republican victory? It’s too soon to tell, but Super Tuesday on Feb. 5 will make things clearer.
In an e-mail to me, author and liberal Democrat Neal Gabler says, “Frankly I don’t think it is so much the bona fides [Mr. Kennedy] provides that could help Obama as the network and infrastructure. Kennedy has the best staff and the best connections of any politician in America. And if Obama is able to tap those, he will get a real boost.”
Former Clinton aide Dick Morris has accused the Clintons of using race in the South Carolina primary in an attempt to energize white voters. Mr. Clinton cynically used blacks during his runs for president and two terms in office. They are just now awakening to the fact Mr. Clinton was not “America’s first black president,” as author Toni Morrison once dubbed him, but rather a flimflammer and exploiter of things blacks care about.
On his blog, Mr. Morris writes, “The boldness of Obama in accepting the Clintons’ injection of race as an issue and his insistence on an enlightened answer challenges us all. Even as one’s head warns that the strategy will fail, one’s heart hopes that it will succeed. Either way, Obama has made the Super Tuesday vote more about who we are than who the candidates running for president are.”
It’s a long way to November and Mr. Obama’s lack of experience has yet to be fully tested and his background fully vetted. Yet it might almost be worth his election if he could force the Clintons to finally leave the stage. Almost.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.