Op-ed on Kennedy’s Obama endorsement

By Alessandra Stanley from the NYT on 1/29/08.  Very nice piece (better than the Brooks piece on the same subject, also on this site).  She explains that the endorsement reflects the clash of two Democratic dynasties, the Kennedys and the Clintons, as the former, now in its seventies, feeds off of Obama’s youth to rekindle a bygone era.  Read on…

The day began in Camelot and ended in Southfork.

State of the Union 

Viewers on Monday were treated to a rare look at three dynasties working out their psychodramas at once: In his final State of the Union address, President Bush, the rebel Texan who defied his father, struggled to avoid the gloom of recession that darkened his father’s final days in the Oval Office. On the campaign trail, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to patch over the pricklier parts of her husband’s legacy, while in Washington, the Kennedy clan sought vindication — and renewed vigor — by passing the torch to an adopted heir.

There was nothing mournful or valedictory about Mr. Bush’s delivery of his seventh State of the Union address, a speech that acknowledged, however briefly, that the economy is in trouble. Mr. Bush, looking fresh and rested, made a point of sounding good-humored as he delivered less-than-glowing news.

At times, it seemed as if Mr. Bush was determined to turn the clock back before his presidency and his father’s, as if to reclaim, one last time, the mantle of Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Bush even presented his promise to extend tax cuts with a Reagan-style joke. “Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes,” Mr. Bush said, twinkling roguishly. “I welcome their enthusiasm, and I am pleased to report that the I.R.S. accepts both checks and money orders.” (The camera pointedly zoomed in on Mrs. Clinton, who was pointedly not amused.)

It was a smooth, but strangely muted performance, almost as if Mr. Bush were attaching a postscript to his presidency.

His words, moreover, were eclipsed by the image of Caroline Kennedy and Senator Edward M. Kennedy anointing Senator Barack Obama as the true successor to John F. Kennedy. That tableau from a rally at American University, shown over and over throughout the day, was powerful and also poignant — the camera showed all too vividly that in passing the torch to Mr. Obama, the patriarch of the Kennedy clan was bypassing his own scions.

Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, Democrat of Rhode Island, on the stage but not of the moment, kept standing up during his father’s and Mr. Obama’s speeches, as if to sneak into the camera’s frame. At one point while Ms. Kennedy was speaking, Senator Kennedy leaned toward Mr. Obama, who put both his arms around the senator as the two men shared a joke. Young Mr. Kennedy leaned over to try to hear their conversation, but was ignored.

The endorsement was a boon to Mr. Obama, of course, but it also served the Kennedy family interests, lending the fading clan a flash of power — and moral standing — that these days is most evident at family funerals. So many members of the younger generation of Kennedys are dead or disqualified; the dynasty that bestowed its mystique and political influence on Mr. Obama was also feeding on his youth and charisma.

Television news reports were understandably intoxicated by the rush of nostalgia — and evocative images. On ABC’s “World News,” a reporter noted solemnly, “the audacity of hope had its rendezvous with destiny.” When Mr. Obama was described as a “son of Camelot,” ABC’s screen was filled by a black-and-white clip of President Kennedy lifting young John-John in his arms.

No cable network was as excited as MSNBC. In the long cable countdown to the endorsement, CNN and Fox News switched to other campaigns — showing Mrs. Clinton campaigning (without her husband) in Connecticut, and Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain sparring in Florida. MSNBC wouldn’t leave the auditorium of American University and instead kept its camera trained on an empty stage — like a child stubbornly glued to the window, waiting for Daddy to come home.

There was magic in the Kennedy images, and also a tinge of malice: Throughout the day, cable news contrasted the pictures of Mr. Obama standing arm and arm with Senator Kennedy and his niece, with old clips of the Clintons back when they enjoyed the favor of Senator Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis — in baseball caps boating off Martha’s Vineyard and striding with Kennedy family members across the White House lawn.

If Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton exchanged pleasantries in the Capitol last night, the camera missed it.

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