February 1, 2008
In last Sunday’s New York Times, Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the 35th President, officially endorsed Senator Barack Obama. Her column is mostly filled with the sort of tributary language that one should expect from political endorsements, but there also exists an undeniable symbolic “passing of the torch” from one generation to the next. The media-driven cliché of torch passing aside however, “A President Like My Father” serves as a resounding sign of an impending and drastic shift in politics and American life; one that will undoubtedly serve us well in the end.
Since 1968, cheap and suspect analogies have been made for seemingly every young Democratic politician who is on the rise. In sports the corresponding phenomenon occurred after Michael Jordan retired and was followed by seemingly dozens of people dubbed the “new Jordan” in every draft, most of whom were subsequently forgotten in their collective failure to live up to such expectations. The same thing has occurred in politics since 1963.
John F. Kennedy remains the symbol of the modern Democratic Party. He was the first Democrat to finally abandon the disparate views of segregation that existed in the powerful southern wing of the party and instead galvanized an entire generation towards working in the realms of social justice, world peace, and every other aspect concerning the modern American dream. The election of Kennedy in 1960, a Roman-Catholic Irishman from Boston, marked the end of almost 200 years of the old WASP guard within national politics, and inspired the creation of a new coalition of immigrants, blacks, and the young, towards fighting for an end to the systemic problems of the United States (and the rest of the world) through politics and participation. Gone were the absolute standards of age and name recognition as requirements for advancement, as a meritocracy based in American Universities would now aid the advancement of the country. Since his death our parents’ generation has carried on his original message, but now some 45 years later it is now our turn to renew this pledge to fight inequality in all of its forms here, and bring peace, prosperity, and freedom to all of those in the world who once looked upon us as a model (and now see us as an enemy).
Personally for me, Kennedy was my first hero. Since I learned about him in the first grade, I idolized him and his achievements. Studying his every accomplishment and controversy served as my introduction not only to some of the most important events in the 20th century, but to a political ethos based on collective responsibility and the willingness to fight injustice. But as time went on however, the idealism that I assumed from the Kennedy era slowly faded, as the reality of contemporary America set in amongst my own thoughts.
I, like many people in the media and public at large, believed that the optimism and freshness that Barack Obama brought to the race would largely be ignored. The pessimism within my own mind was brought on not only by the last seven awful years of living under the rule of George W. Bush, but from also enduring the eight cynical years before Bush, when the angry and ruthless politics of the Clinton years dominated the landscape. As a life-long Democrat, I have only seen moderate successes for those whose ideals I share, ones that always followed colossal mistakes from the Republicans. Meanwhile the opposition has become powerful by preying off of our collective hatreds and individualistic tendencies, and they have subsequently ruined everything that should embody the ideals of this country.
But then Barack Obama gave a speech in 2004 that surprised me. In the midst of the most divisive and hate-filled election in modern American politics, this young and completely unknown State Senator (I thought he was Harold Ford when first approached the podium) delivered an oration that summed up the ideals that we should have been speaking about since 1992. The concept of “hope” was mentioned, and I was almost floored. Politics had been about combat, not positivity, what was he doing? I had to read his book.
As an author and as a Senator, Obama has proved himself to be the real inheritor of the Kennedy ideals. He is not a media-made creation like those who claimed the Kennedy mantle before him (that club by the way includes every one from Bill Clinton to Dan Quayle). Obama’s celebrity might have started with a speech, but it is through his actions that prove that a future under his stewardship will be a bright one. Obama has campaigned for an increase in security for Weapons of Mass Destruction throughout the world, toiled for much-needed lobbying reform, and has even worked several times with Republicans, most notably with the immigration reform bill of last summer. But it is Obama’s background that will prove most essential for the next four years. As a Mixed-Heritage American who lived abroad for much of his life, he is simply the only candidate who can improve our situation abroad. If we elect Obama, we can look forward to finally having Universal Health Care, affordable college, an end to the war in Iraq, and a return to the wonderful (and lost) sense of idealism for the future.
Hillary Clinton is a great candidate. Her intelligence, drive, and political clout are almost unmatched, but she is also a flawed candidate. Clinton would open up the wounds of the past and lead us once again into the spiteful and dirty election tactics that have created the situation that we are now in. Watching television throughout the past year I have witnessed a seismic shift in the opinions of hardened news pundits like Jack Cafferty, Joe Scarborough, and Chris Matthews, each of whom have recently praised Obama, attributing the changes in their own individual mindsets concerning partisan politics to Obama’s campaign style and emphasis on cooperation and reconciliation. If Obama can make those guys look less like jerks, imagine what he can do when he starts campaigning nationally.
Barack Obama will be a great president, not just because he is qualified and knowledgeable about how to solve the challenges that he will face, but because even now he is dismantling the old attitudes that have festered and infected those who have lived in this county since the 1980’s. Reagan undid the progress that Kennedy accomplished by turning each of us against one another in the hope of fattening our pockets. Clinton destroyed the safety net of welfare and created a type of politics where the winner in elections would be determined by whoever was left standing after the fight. George W. Bush is the absolute worst president that the United States has ever seen. But today is a new day, and through “hope”; a concept that has been so foreign to us as a country, we can affect change and perhaps even redefine history once again.