Monday, December 3, 2012

Kennedy vs. Obama

The word 'dynasty' has been often used to refer to the Kennedy family. In American politics, given the lack of a royal house, the Roosevelts, the Clintons, the Bushes, and the Adams have made a collective impact on our political system, but few families have made more headlines than the Kennedys.

Yet the Kennedy family is not always monolithic. During the 2008 primary season, patriarch Ted and his niece Caroline supported Obama, while his nephew Bobby supported Hillary Clinton. Once Obama obtained the party's nomination, there was little to do but calculate the role the Kennedys would play during Obama's first term.

Have prominently supported Obama during the campaign, Caroline, according to historian Edward Klein,

wanted to secure a position as an adviser on education to the new administration. With that in mind, she sent the White House a long memo on education funding reform, which was based on her first-hand experience with the New York City Board of Education. She ended the memo by saying that she hoped to meet with the president to discuss her ideas.

Obama's relation to the Kennedy clan is complex. They cannot directly lay claim to having given Obama his position. That was done by a different set of people - those who handle and manage Obama. But there is no denying that Caroline's support was very helpful to Obama, both in getting the party's nomination, and in winning the general election. And it is also clear that a united effort by the Kennedys to keep Obama out of the White House would probably have succeeded. So, while the Kennedys did not, and do not, manage Obama directly, they are still powerful inside the party, and one might think that it would behoove Obama to acknowledge them. But

she never got a response. Not even an acknowledgement that he had received the memo.

The death of Teddy Kennedy may have given Obama the feeling that he no longer needed to calculate the political dynamic of the Kennedy family.

Then, in the summer of 2011, Caroline asked Maurice Templesman, her mother's longtime companion and a major player in the Democratic Party, to arrange a meeting with the president and his political advisers on Templesman's 70-foot yacht the Relemar, which was docked on Martha's Vineyard, where the president was vacationing. It was Caroline's hope that such a meeting would further her late uncle Teddy's dream of forming a close bond between the Kennedys and the Obamas.

If Obama is interested in forming his own dynasty, he's not interested in doing so by merging with the Kennedys. It is clear that Obama wants to break with major threads within the Democratic Party tradition. He is perhaps akin to those who stormed the 1968 Democrat convention in Chicago, eager to dismantle the machine in favor of an approach modeled after Saul Alinsky.

Once again, the White House spurned Caroline's overture. The president didn't even make an effort to see Caroline, whose home on Martha's Vineyard, Red Gate Farm, was not far from the house the president was renting. A presidential snub had turned into an insult.

It is not clear what Obama's agenda is in this case; on the one hand, he seems to want to fit into the mold of the patriarchs of the Democrat Party - vacationing on Martha's Vineyard, displaying his Ivy League credentials - but on the other hand, he seems not to want to take a place in the pantheon of Democrat Party Aristocrats, but wishes rather to play the role of the iconoclast - raging against the machine. It's as if the radicals who rioted at the '68 Democrat convention in Chicago also wanted memberships in the country clubs where leaders of the Democrat party play golf - and golf is another air which Obama happily wears, while casting himself as the antithesis of golfing politicos.

The White House meted out similar treatment to Ethel Kennedy, the matriarch of the family. During the presidential primaries and general election, Ethel was so gung-ho for Obama that she stopped talking to her son Bobby, because he was an Obama critic. After Obama won the election, Ethel invited the new president to stop by her house in the Kennedy Compound. Her request was met with stony silence.

Having absorbed the political support of Teddy, Caroline, Ethel, and other members of the Kennedy family, Obama was content to ignore them after entering office. This may yet earn him the united ire of the Kennedys. Anonymously interviewed by Klein, one member of the family said that

our family has spies all over the Obama administration. There are a lot of Kennedy loyalists from Ted's old office and his connections throughout Washington who are in high positions in the White House agencies. People like Melody Barnes, the direct of the Domestic Policy Council; Kenneth Feinberg, the special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund; James Steinberg, a former deputy secretary of state; and Greg Craig, the former White House counsel under Obama. Through these and other people, Caroline heard back that there was a lot of nasty shit being said about the Kennedys by the president and Michelle. There were catty remarks about how badly the Kennedy women dressed, and how their houses were shabby and threadbare. Caroline got the impression that most of this negativity was coming from Michelle, who didn't want the Kennedys to be part of the administration for fear that they would have too much influence over the president. Gradually, Caroline began to change her tune and side with Bobby and Kathleen [Kennedy Townsend] against the Obamas. Unlike Jackie, who was completely apolitical, Caroline is a liberal with a capital L. When Obama didn't raise taxes to balance the budget, Caroline marked him down. In her eyes, he's a mess because he doesn't follow the liberal bible on politics. More important, Caroline discovered that the Obamas didn't give a damn about her or her support. For instance, she was not invited to the state dinners at the White House hosted by the Obamas, or to the president's forty-ninth birthday celebration in Chicago. It really annoyed Caroline when comparisons were made by the media between Michelle and Jackie. Caroline had a word for such comparisons; she called them 'odious.' She really got annoyed. And when she began to fall out of love with the Obamas, love was replaced by outright scorn. Now she says things about Obama like, 'I can't stand to hear his voice any more. He's a liar and worse.'

Perhaps the only thing worse than being snubbed or ignored by the Obamas is being invited by them - when it is clear that the invitation is purely for form's sake, and utterly insincere.

On Halloween, 2011, Caroline Kennedy received an invitation to attend a reception celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the White House Historical Society. She could hardly have been ignored in this case because it was her mother, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, who had restored many parts of the White House and established the White House Historical Association in 1961.

The meeting between Michelle Obama and Caroline Kennedy was orchestrated to be understated and downplayed.

The reception was closed to the press. Michelle Obama posed for a photo with Caroline, which was released later. But that was it. There was no invitation to the Family Quarters, where Caroline had lived and played as a child. After the photo, Michelle spun on her heels and left.

A Kennedy family adviser reports Caroline's experience:

Caroline said that shaking hands with Michelle was like shaking hands with a cold fish. Caroline had the feeling she wasn't really wanted there. Michelle gave the distinct impression that she doesn't like her. Caroline can be pretty standoffish herself, but she was surprised at how cold Michelle was to her. The only thing personal about the meeting was when Michelle turned to Caroline and said, 'the president is going to put the Keystone Pipeline project on hold and wouldn't Bobby like that?' In response, Caroline said, 'Bobby would like to meet with the president about the Keystone Pipeline being not only delayed, but being aggressively attacked and killed.' Michelle looked stricken. She said, 'Bobby should call the White House,' meaning that he would have to go through channels like everybody else. Caroline's attitude about the 2012 election is that, as a loyal Democrat, she has nowhere to go, no one else to possibly support except Obama. What really pisses her off is that the Obamas know that she has nowhere else to go, so they see no point in being nice to her.

Obama wants to establish himself and his regime as something apart from the heritage of the Democrat Party. He's willing to use the Kennedys or the Clintons when they are useful, but he will do so in way which holds them at arm's length, and when they've ceased being useful, he'll drop them. Part of this is ideological: he's not looking to establish a Kennedy-esque Camelot of traditional American liberalism; he's looking to decisively undermine and weaken the United States, both politically and economically. Part of this is personal: as someone damaged when abandoned both by his father and by a string of father-figures who temporarily paired up with this mother, confused about his identity as his mother directed him through a serious of educational institutions which kept him largely outside of the Black community and the mainstream of the African-American experience, his own self-concept is incomplete, lacking a core identity which is especially necessary in the pressure-cooker of presidential politics, and therefore lacking the ability to form certain types of relationships. He's insecure, and not quite sure how he would relate to the Kennedys, and so simply chooses not to do so.