Barack Obama’s choice to involve Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president, as part of a three-person team leading his search for a running mate is another not-so-subtle example of his very real desire to be seen as the present-day embodiment of Camelot. It may turn out to be a very effective strategy in a day and age when style and image trump just about everything else. His repeated vow to change this country, with its non-specific resemblance to JFK’s 1960 rhetorical promise to “get America moving again,” seems to resonate with crowds.
Change what? Move where? Such messages tend to resonate with people who are disaffected, and the hearer is free to insert his or her own hopes and fears into the narrative.
A closer look at Mr. Obama, however, will reveal that he actually seems to bear a closer resemblance to JFK’s younger brother Bobby, who was tragically murdered forty years ago this week in a moment of violent insanity.
Robert Kennedy’s late entry into the already rambunctious 1968 presidential campaign in mid-March that year sent shock waves through the political world. Richard Nixon was in Portland, Oregon on March 16th as he watched the New York Senator’s candidacy announcement. Already well on his way to the Republican nomination a few months later, he was facing the fact that he might indeed find himself running against the brother of the slain president who had beaten him eight years before. He told an aide as he watched, “very terrible forces have been unleashed. Something bad is going to come of this. God knows where this is going to lead.” Nixon understood something about politics, people, and the political milieu of the moment.
There arose a legend in the aftermath of Bobby’s death - one similar to what was conjured up following his brother’s assassination five years earlier. As the story goes, everything would have been different had he lived and been elected president. That’s certainly an understandable sentiment from those who loved and followed him – but as with most martyr-driven myths, it’s unrealistic. He probably wouldn’t even have won the nomination that August.
The fact, though, that so many hopes and dreams were projected onto a forty-two year old politician, who had little of the obvious charisma of his famous sibling, is a reminder that faith (as in believing in something or someone intensely) is a powerful dynamic when released politically.