Saturday, August 29, 2009
Watching the film clips about the Kennedys was like re-living my life. I came of age in the 60’s when the world was changing in all kinds of wonderful ways—racial barriers breaking down, patriarchy challenged, opportunities opening for women. The Kennedys were sometimes given credit for the incredible sense of possibility of those days, but the Kennedy brothers were responding to something bubbling up from the ground.
Life was not kind to us 60’s activists. As we entered our middle years with all the inevitable personal disappointments (marriages failing, career goals unrealized), we also had to deal with all those dreams from the 60’s crashing down. The long backlash against the 60’s which began with Nixon turned into a full scale assault with the election of Ronald Reagan, followed by all the disappointments and missed opportunities of the Clinton years and then the eight year horror of George W Bush .
But Ted Kennedy kept fighting the good fight through it all. As the years passed, I grew to respect and value him more and more. His last gift to us was his early support for Barack Obama, who may not have won the primary without it.
I never thought I would live long enough to see the election of an African- American president. I was an early Obama. supporter, although I didn’t come out of the closet until after Iowa. (As a NOW chapter president it was a little dicey.) Ted Kennedy and Carolyn Kennedy’s early support gave me (and no doubt many others) hope that Obama could make it.
With Obama’s election, I experienced for the first time in many long years that sense of social possibility I had not felt since the 60’s. (Granted that optimism is tempered by the enormity of the problems Obama inherited.)
And that sense of social possibility includes gender equality as well as racial equality. Watching all those film clips of Jacqueline Kennedy, I could not help but think of the dramatic contrast with Michelle Obama. Jacqueline Kennedy was beautiful in an almost unreal fashion model sense, but a deferential wife with her wispy little girl voice, silently enduring her husband's serial philandering. Michelle Obama is beautiful in a strong, athletic real woman sense, a Harvard trained lawyer with a confident voice, in a marriage which is clearly a loving partnership.
We have come a really long way. The long backlash against the 60’s appears to be finally over. Sure we have the crazy birthers and the tea-baggers. There are enough of them to create a lot of noise, but not enough to muster an electoral majority.
There is so much work to be done. It’s tragic that that Kennedy did not live long enough to see national health care passed. Let’s hope that his memory inspires others.