Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 19, 2008

The Kennedys & Obama: Then & Now, Once and for All

Is Teddy faking it? I doubt it. But this weekend’s mysterious seizure sure gives Barack Obama some good press, not to mention providing a chance for Sen. Kennedy to look like a folksy “regular Joe” as he recuperates, watches the Red Sox, and plots the next conquest of the progressive movement in America.

I know it’s low-down and dirty to say so publicly, but the illness of one Kennedy — a universally acknowledged bridge to the heady days of Camelot — would be a big boon for the “next JFK”, as Maria Shriver and dozens of other heavy-hitters have called Obama. It would just be a matter of time, then, before environmentalist/knight-in-shining-armor Robert F. Kennedy Jr. becomes a more significant political role-player, and the Beatles would make a triumphant return, and the Peace Corps would replace the Marine Corps in Iraq, and we’ll all be invited out to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis for a celebratory picnic. (What? Party on Cape Cod? I am SO there… Where’s the keys to my yacht?)

News of Teddy Kennedy’s seizure over the weekend probably struck me a bit differently than many liberals.  Maybe because I just watched the excellent movie The Good Shepherd, director  Robert DeNiro’s serious look at the creation and growth of the CIA from the late 1930s through the early 1960s. Matt Damon’s character Edward Wilson, prompted by his own and JFK’s biggest blunder (the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961), looks back over his life’s triumphs and challenges as a spy. Damon is effective as a quietly hawkish, behind-the-scenes true believer; he’s a killer masquerading as civil servant, though one who never once is shown pulling a trigger or wielding a weapon himself. The film is effective as both drama and political commentary (non-partisan commentary, about the spiritual and philosophical danger of too much paranoia — whether one’s enemies are commies or terrorists).

And lest we forget, George Bush Sr. was once Director of the CIA. So this is not some fringy little entity like the Departments of Interior or Education. It’s the little devil on the shoulder of our nation’s leaders, whispering truth and lies into their ears with little certainty of which is which. (Wasn’t it George Tenet that called Iraq a “slam dunk”, even while sending Gulf veteran Colin Powell to the U.N. with faulty intelligence?)

Military and foreign intelligence is the “black hole” among the many bright stars in our sky, a place where reason, mercy and democracy get sucked in, thus suckering us all into thinking that without some great enemy or epic battle, we’re less of a nation. One might call the CIA’s violence and disinformation our nation’s festering cancer, a cancer that can neither kill us nor be cured.

Not that I’m a lover of terrorists, religious dictatorships, the Soviets, or any other monolithic, casually violent, shadowy institution (including our own overly complex and secretive government). But I do sorely hate that whole Red-baiting, saber-rattling, woefully misinformed and hollow foreign policy attitude held by Eisenhower, JFK, and every president up through at least Bill Clinton. For a great man like John F. Kennedy, anti-Communist paranoia was his achilles heel. For example, it led him to embroil us in the first great, ill-advised, unwinnable guerilla war, in Vietnam. (Let’s not kid ourselves: Johnson was only following up what the CIA and JFK had already set in motion in Indochina/Vietnam.) And as for Dubya, he’s just ineptly trying to finish what his Daddy started. And failing. Again.

Let’s hope that future U.S. foreign policy can be more reasoned and sound, in Iraq and elsewhere, for the next generation of Kennedys and Kennedy clones. Don’t take that as an insult, though. I still like Barack just fine. He thinks for himself, despite patterning himself somewhat on the image-obsessed Kennedy. He’s tough, yet without being fundamentally angry (like both Hillary and McCain tend to be). He’s gutsy and takes chances, like that Bay of Pigs thing, but is honest about what’s at risk or being compromised. He’s not “post-military” like JFK, but “post-local” in his understanding of what makes people tick, both in America and around the world. He trusts in his, and in the American public’s, ability to adapt and put our best foot forward when the pressure is on. And despite his smallish, local political beginnings, he may end up being our nation’s first truly “global” president, in an era when a global identity (instead of local/isolationist naivete) means so much.

 


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