No sooner had the new about Ted Kenney’s brain cancer hit the airwaves, on this rainy vacation day in Florida, then the camelot retrospectives, with familiar kennedy images began swelling the airwaves. We last saw these images when John Jr. died, and they have been repeated every time a Kennedy dies, gets sick, or otherwise makes news.
This time it’s Ted’s turn, and hopefully, he’ll be around for a long time to come. But as folks begin the process of assessing his career, it is important to measure his impact on the current presidential race, which has been huge and continue. He has made a mark on each of the candidates, in different ways.
On John McCain, Ted’s family legacy left a mark on the young McCain back in the late 1950s-early 60s. McCain was a “maverick” rat pack wannabe in his own annapolis circles. The kind of cool Jack had and young John McCain never would have. In terms of being a “maverick,” the title belongs to Ted not, McCain. Ted would break party ranks for purposes connected to policy and principle, unlike McCain whose actions of campaign finance reform, for example, seem increasingly expedient and hypocritical. he did this during reagan and Bush when policy options were bleak and no real alternatives existed (hence NCLB).
2) Ted’s influence on the Clinton’s was profound (personally, stylistically, ethically, and less so politically). First, the Kennedy presidency and Camalot legacy entranced a young Bill Clinton, who perhaps overused the photo of his teen age self shaking hands with JFK to make the point of his own idealism. The moral ambiguity attached to many Jack/Bobby stories no doubt also left a lasting impression on a young Bill Clinton, whose philandering has also been compared to the dark side of Camelot. More recently, during the impeachment saga, it was the Kennedy’s who helped buttress an almost mortally wounded Clinton presidency. Photo images of the Clinton’s visiting with and sailing with Ted and Jackie helped rally the democratic base on Clinton’s behalf.
And more recently, Hillary has been compared with Ted, as someone’s whose presidential ambitions went down in flames but who proved to be the lion of the senate, and one of the nation’s most formidable legislators of the 20th century. Not a bad role model for Hillary Clinton to seek out now.
On the downside, personal friendships aside, the Kennedy’s were never big fans of the Clinton’s because Bill compromised New Deal and New Frontier liberalism for a republicanized version of democratic party politics.
The part of Ted’s legacy that few people are proud of is what he did at the 1980 convention after that incredible speech (The Dream Will Never Die). By refusing to shake carter’s hand, he helped elect Ronald Reagan, himself a historical mistake that historians have yet to adequately contend with. Of course, this part of the kennedy legacy spreads the most fear in democrats this nominating vconvention season.
3) Hence, the Ted endorsement of Barack Obama, somebody whose candidacy comes closest to carrying the kennedy flag into the 21st century. Obama’s, personal appeal, charisma, intellegence, big picture vision and progressive politics is most like JFK’s and Ted’s own. Plenty of people are hoping that the Kennedy magic continues to buttress Obama. Nobody knows the political game better. Ted’s work isn’t done yet.
And for this, the country owes Ted Kennedy a huge debt of gratitude.