News & Views from 465 California Street

“Just Politics”

Clint Reilly

JFK, Caroline, Ted and Hillary

It is said that there are no friends in politics, only temporary allies.

Ted Kennedy stands at the podium proclaiming his support for Barack Obama in an old school shout. Caroline talks quietly into the television camera explaining why Obama is this generation’s John Kennedy. The 1960’s media guru Marshall McLuhan would have lectured his students that Teddy’s loud style was too hot for the medium of television – like Richard Nixon’s – and Caroline’s conversational tone was cool – exactly like JFK’s.

When JFK summoned young Americans to public service in his 1960 inaugural address, he bequeathed a generation of political activists to future decades. These activists were shaped by four experiences: First, “The Assassinations” (John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King). Second, the Civil Rights Movement. Third, the Vietnam War. Fourth, a cultural revolution that profoundly impacted American mores.

Assassinations have the contradictory effect of simultaneously demoralizing and inspiring. The spectacle of three killings, three public funerals, foot-high headlines, choreographed TV replay of the murders and melancholic commentary made political action seem pointless. “Things will never change,” was a common refrain. Some dropped out. But martyrs move others to follow in their footsteps. Martyrs multiply themselves. And so an army of committed progressive activists marched into the 1970’s.

Hillary Clinton was one of them.

The Civil Rights Movement was a massive teach-in for political activists. There were two lessons: First, moral imperatives are achievable by making and changing laws. Second, the strategies and tactics of social change can be learned and mastered. The critical link between the moral principle of equal justice and laws that convert principle into action was political leadership. Protest taught a new generation of potential reformers the practical skills to become change agents themselves.

Hillary Clinton was one of them.

In the 1960’s America did not have the memory of Vietnam to caution against the perils of Vietnam. At the time, most American adults could only recall World War II. Vietnam drove a wedge between generations as deep as the geographical divide of the Civil Rights struggle. Veterans were frustrated by their children’s opposition to the war. The idealistic slogans of the Civil Rights struggles seemed naïve as public service morphed from the Peace Corps of Sargent Shriver to the Battle Corps of General Westmoreland. Young Americans asked, “Had a righteous federal government in Alabama become an imperialistic federal government in Asia?”

Hillary Clinton
was one of them.

A jarring cultural earthquake shook the 60’s. It brought a revolution in music, lifestyles and values. The post war economic boom permitted an introspection and freedom that the Depression in 1930’s and world war in the 1940’s had prohibited. Inevitably, this cultural revolution had a profound impact. A string of laws on marriage, divorce and abortion were challenged or changed as new movements emerged based on lifestyle, sex or sexual orientation. Young Americans questioned a structure of rigid “do’s” and “don’ts.”

Women demanded equal rights.

Hillary Clinton was one of them before becoming First Lady of the United States, a United States Senator and a candidate for President.

Clinton had literally followed in the footsteps of JFK. She had done everything John Kennedy had asked when he summoned young Americans to public service 48 years ago.

But now Teddy Kennedy is endorsing a man for President who did not graduate from college until 1983. As John Kennedy once said, “Life is unfair.”

Comments (9)

  • Perfectly argued and written. Can’t get any better than this. Hillary Clinton is a bleeding heart Democrat.

    Posted by: Don Nguyen | February 26th, 2008 at 10:09 am

  • Dear Clint,
    Smart voters are outnumbered by American-Idol and Dancing-with-the-Stars voters who are attracted to rhetoric not substance, male chauvinism, Democratic Party wants to defeat its own DLC faction, Republican strategists are using the independent voters, etc. And I am scared.
    Hillary Clinton is the first candidate I’ve ever made a contribution to. If she did not get the nomination I won’t vote for anyone. I’ve been waiting to see Hillary, the President, for a long time.

    Posted by: Dzuy Ngo | February 26th, 2008 at 12:08 pm

  • Hillary Clinton likened to JFK, while Obama is compared to G.W. Bush! The spin is in full force these days. What is markedly clear is that the Democratic “establishment” has been stunned by Obama’s political savvy and the Obama Campaign’s ability to raise money over the Internet. The military industry, AIPAC, the oil industry, and many others are understandably worried about Barak Obama. Comparing Hillary to JFK! well didn’t Carolina Kennedy compare Obama to JFK? And she wasn’t being flippant, or strategic. In the 60′s, Hillary Clinton was a republican, and the President of the Young Republicans at Wellsley. She was a “Goldwater Girl”, and Goldwater was a race-bating, pro-nuclear republican who voted against the civil rights act. In 1968 Hillary did support McCarthy’s presidential campaign after attending the Republican National Convention but then she took a job as a corporate lawyer for many years. Barack Obama’s first work after law school was leading a voter registration drive, then as a representative for community organizers; he went on to teach Constitutional Law at U. Chicago. The rest of the histories are freely available online. Thankfully, the Internet provides not only a plethora of information to the masses but allows the masses to oppose the establishment.

    Posted by: Bob Lever | February 26th, 2008 at 1:20 pm

  • The lacquer is slowing flaking off JFK’s reputation, but it will take another generation or so before it is generally understood that he was a mediocre president. A C+ if you’re feeling charitable. But he was an A+ candidate like Obama. Women swooning, people detecting wisdom in his cotton-candy rhetoric in which he gets off lines like we must go forward, not back. But the suckers are buying it! Poor Hillary with her plodding, reasoned arguments in favor of earned experience over jejune exhortations. She never had a chance.

    Posted by: Jerry Carroll | February 26th, 2008 at 3:27 pm

  • As a baby boomer, I feel somewhat wistful that Obama’s generation is about to supplant ours at every level of leadership in America: cultural, corporate, medical, academic and of course political. We didn’t seem to occupy the heights for that long ! Is anybody else beginning to feel like day old bread ? On the other hand, Obama’s generation (and having been born in 1961 he’s technically a boomer) is tired of the Clintons’ replay of stale 1960s themes like feminism, racism and many of the other 60s isms. In a sense, Bill and Hillary are culturally frozen in an era that many of Obama’s generation see as mildly amusing, yellowing, dated snapshots in the national family photo album. Like every generation before them they are rooted in the past. As stirring as President Kennedy’s calls to action were to our generation, it is time to move on.

    Posted by: Jim Herlihy | February 26th, 2008 at 6:14 pm

  • I just turned 65, and like you have lived through more BS than a human being should endure. I just read your “Just Politics …” comments today in the SJ mercury News – and I couldn’t agree more with what you wrote. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t give my wife ANY peace this morning until she also read your ‘Public Service Message’.

    What you wrote is a rarity these days – the content AND the context. You explained ‘IT ALL’ – and everything anyone need know! It ranks up there with few other profound things that I have read – that should be on page one of every editorial page and page 1 of every newspaper, and on every headline news show – but of course we both KNOW, it won’t. I’ll even go one rare step further – it should receive the coveted ‘Clockwork Orange’ award – after EVERY adult in America has been forced (like the movie, of the SAME name) to read what you wrote – UNTIL ‘they get it’!

    I probably don’t have to explain it at all, but if you recall, the movie ‘Clockwork Orange’ was set in the future – where bad people were ‘conditioned’ – if they turned on society. ‘Conditioning’ included a total ‘sensory experience’, including: audio, video, smell, touch/tactile and shock treatment for responding positively to ‘bad stimulus’ – and while IN treatment, patients were strapped in chairs and the eyes were kept open with tape or toothpicks?

    I ‘WISH’ Hillary could use what you wrote as ‘talking points’ in today’s debate with Obama – and I wish she could also read some of the things I have written. Oh, well – just another debate that news pundits will use to throw Hillary under the bus – once AGAIN!

    Posted by: Dave La Bounty | February 26th, 2008 at 6:20 pm

  • “In the 60′s, Hillary Clinton was a republican, and the President of the Young Republicans at Wellsley.”

    There goes to show, she’s a Democrat now.

    When i was young, i was foolish. I would like to think we all get wiser with time.

    But i get your point, Bob.

    I wonder if there is a way to get both of them on the ticket. Everyone i’ve spoken to seems to want it. So, who’s gonna be VICE-PREZ? Will the Senator yield?

    Posted by: Don Nguyen | February 27th, 2008 at 3:01 pm

  • There are so many negatives on Hillary, that it seems unwise for her to be the VP.
    As for the Young Republican history, if Hillary had turned around dramatically fine, but she went on to represent large corps as atty for many years, and was the first women on the board of Wallmart. So as Mr. Reilly points out, “Hillary was there” but was she “one of them” ? . Jump to the present: the bills she actually got passed during her 1 term as U.S. senator are not that impressive (see ) or just do the search :-) .

    But again, in the general election, I think having Hillary as a VP would hurt Obama more than help him. There is a significant portion of the electorate that will “never” vote for her. Presumably this is due to A. sexism, and B. her confrontational “politics as usual” manner. Re the sexism, many prominent feminists are supporting Obama simply because he is the better candidate.
    ( for example, )

    Posted by: Bob Lever | February 28th, 2008 at 9:00 pm

  • Does it matter if Senator Barack Obama received his undergraduate degree in 1983?
    Both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton received their BA’s at age 22 and their law degrees at age 27.
    JFK received his BA at age 23. Age is not the issue, the issue is representation.
    Hillary represents “business as usual” and the U.S. is in a state of disrepair.

    Clinton was elected President at age 46. JFK at age 43. And Barack Obama will be elected at age 47.

    As a side note, see this article on Obama’s years as an Illinois Senator, He’s hardly inexperienced.

    Posted by: morgan beeker | February 29th, 2008 at 1:09 am

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