Wednesday, August 26, 2009

After the Kennedy Mystique, What’s Next?

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 8/26/09

In the Massachusetts town where I grew up my father could go through life and never talk to anyone who wasn’t either Irish or Quebecois. Jack Kennedy changed that. He changed everything. And to my surprise, he changed everything for everyone. Traveling in northern Thailand in military service in 1967 I’d entered tiny jungle villages where the children had never seen an American before but on the wall of their hooches were pictures of the king, the queen and JFK.

The Kennedy era ended long ago, but the mystique lived on. The question today is this: Does the Kennedy mystique die as the last brother, Ted Kennedy, enters the realm of the Departed?

Thomas Jefferson’s work in the world was done long before he died but likewise, his mystique lived on and colored political events. Then once he was out of the room, things started to move fast. He was barely cold in his grave in 1826 before events began to swirl again. The rustic frontiersman Andrew Jackson would soon be president and those in the industrial north who had been waiting and watching the South for 50 years with loathing and distain would begin to focus their gaze. With Jefferson’s death the Colonial Period, for all practical purposes, had ended and those of that period would not participate in the new day.

The Kennedy Mystique could likewise pass on with the death of Ted. Which would not be great news for Barack Obama, whose yearning to be the “new Kennedy” is on the verge of the obsequious.

Things begin where they end, the Buddhists say. This year we have seen things in the west start to stir again, much as they did with Andrew Jackson. The rise of Sarah Palin, Alaskan, in particular, as touched a cord in the heartland and sent seizures through the conventionally-bound political classes in the northeast. Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, has since joined hands bringing substance, management, new thinking and the suggestion of an actual movement.

But I couldn’t help notice that today’s New York Times featured an op-ed by Jim Webb, novelist, warrior, and now Senator from Virginia. He first brought the same cries of Eeeek! to New York, particularly when he responded to President Bush’s State of the Union in 2007. And like Sarah Palin, he was dismissed outright by the Wall Street Journal’s doyenne, Peggy Noonan ( “ . . . Nancy Pelosi with metals.”)

When Jack Kennedy was elected President, we Irish in Massachusetts came into the country. Suddenly, we were Americans first, and Irish second. And having lived and worked in the shadow of the past again later in Virginia when Richard Allen was Governor, I’d felt that with the election of Mark Warner as Governor, Virginians were having that same experience.

Webb and Warner, now co-senators from the Old Dominion, brought a new day to the Democratic Party. One not strong enough to flourish yet n the national scene by 2008, but one which may find the strength and will to get there in years just ahead.


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