I went off of my computer for just a day and a half while up in Montreal — and tons of stuff breaks, including Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Barack Obama. This is quite significant but for reasons that may not seem as obvious as the press is promoting.
First of all, Caroline Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama was inspirational to many clearly — but it did not move me. I wrote the other day that I thought that the qualities she was celebrating in her iconic and impressive father left some significant pieces of his global perspective out of the picture. But her endorsement is hers to give, and I respect that. Of all the comments that impressed me after my post — James K. Galbraith‘s caught my eye the most and made me think.
Galbraith, of course, is the son of famed Kennedy adviser and teacher, John Kenneth Galbraith. Jamie Galbraith, as friends call him, is one of the nation’s sharpest economic minds, a progressive, and an adviser to John Edwards. He suggests that Kennedy, had he lived, might have taken steps to end the Vietnam conflict and to take America’s direction in global affairs an alternative route. Arthur Schlesinger has suggested the same in his writings — but while I acknowledge the possibility, much more of Kennedy’s actual written commentary and his policy decisions seem to be consistent with him being a Cold War hawk. He was not as far over as Nixon or a John Foster Dulles — but he was a hard-edged warrior when it came to the perceived battle going on globally between communism and democracy.
But back to the Kennedy clan.
Ted Kennedy has the largest machine in the Democratic Party. When I used to work in the Senate, I marveled at the Kennedy franchise — at the number of people who had started with Kennedy, who then went on to different positions in government and the private sector, and then came back for his annual “friends only” Holiday Party at which he and his wife always showed up in some extremely cool but outrageous attire (I was there for Beauty and the Kennedy Beast). There were thousands upon thousands at this close friends’ party.
The Clintons have a franchise of course. So does Joe Biden and Daschle and John Breaux. But the Kennedy empire is enormous — and when Tom DeLay tried to stop the hiring of Democrats by K Street, it was Ted Kennedy’s machine and his acolytes that he was really trying to hurt.
So this endorsement by Kennedy does have magnitude — and bolsters Obama’s position. The Clinton machine remains formidable and nationally deployed — and may still have an edge. But there is no doubt that Kennedy’s endorsement is not about Massachusetts nor about an aging white liberal — it is about the thousands and thousands of followers who owe their careers to Ted Kennedy.
This is also about machine politics — and Kennedy wants his machine to continue to thrive and to have major impact on the course of American policy and politics (and also wants his people to get jobs).
The Clinton franchise could never really be true to the Kennedy machine — Bill and Hillary have their own many thousands of followers beholden to them.
Obama is fresh enough and new enough that he doesn’t have such a machine; now Kennedy has gifted Obama an enormous vehicle which Kennedy hopes Obama will take as his own and keep intact.
On the State of the Union, I’ll be watching. I’ve already been directed to one piece of pandering that I’m not thrilled with regarding the mother of a prisoner in Cuba. This is meant to remind the more fanatical Cuban-Americans in Miami who their patron in Washington is.
The reference (with all due respect to Mrs. Gonzalez referenced below who in my view is being exploited by Bush and other politicians) is to one of President Bush’s guests tonight at the State of the Union. This from the White House press release:
— Blanca Gonzalez, who lives in Miami, Fla. She is the mother of Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, a Cuban political prisoner arrested in He has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for reporting on the conditions of Cuba’s state-run services and for criticizing the government’s management
These kinds of emotional push-buttons are designed to keep the entire United States of America from doing what is in its national interests, and its a disturbing trend in politics — complete pandering.
In other news, Lou Ann Linehan — the very capable Chief of Staff to Senator Chuck Hagel and former high-powered liaison between the State Department and Congress — is stepping down from her position to survey the political landscape. I happen to know that Hagel supports her and wanted her to stay. But Mike Buttry, Communications Director for Hagel, will now become Chief of Staff — and Rexon Ryu, formerly one of many on a long roster of victims of John Bolton’s harassment at the State Department Intelligence & Research Division, is the new Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Foreign Policy Adviser.
The last thing I’ll add is that DC has yet another political rag to work through — and this one looks interesting. It’s called The Washington Independent.
I know nothing about it yet — other than it is allegedly progressive and already features the work of Holly Yeager, a great writer who previously worked with the Financial Times and whose husband is the well known political oracle Mark Schmitt.