Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Kennedys, Obama’s Eulogy: What it all means to this aging activist

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.


  1. My 29 year old daughter, a vociferous, enthusiastic Obama supporter, is becoming acquainted with the Kennedys this past week, she is beccoming inspired forty years later by their dedication to the politics of care "for the least" of us. I found myself telling her about the scrapebook of Jack Kennedy that I made as a 16 year old, the enthusiasm I felt watching him , and those wonderful press conferences. I have a renewed admiration for Teddy.

  2. What's lived experience for us, is ancient history for many young people. Glad to hear that Laura is discovering this history.

    Joel Achenbach in today’s WaPo makes a very similar point:
    “Younger people might not understand why such a fuss has been made over a man who ran for president 30 years ago. It is hard to explain the Kennedy mystique to anyone who never experienced the tumult of the 1960s.”

  3. I found myself watching specials on CNN and MSNBC about the Kennedy's until 1:30 a.m. Friday night. I'm about to head over to Arlington Cemetary now to see Teddy. What an exciting era my mom and aunt experienced! I did feel like I had a taste of that excitement during the fall election of Barack. --Laura

  4. The Kennedy family met a lot to me too. The recent death of Ted Kennedy brought tears to mine eyes. My mother and father were/was so fond of John F Kennedy . My mother often spoke of JFK ,his wife Jacqueline and children as if they were a close friend. It seems like a story of family has come to end.