The Democrats Look to Kennedys Past — and Kennedys Future

  • Share
  • Read Later
Anybody up for a little old-fashioned liberalism? A big sloppy kiss for the old guard of the Democratic party? Perhaps a few reminiscences about the Dems' last election year confab in Los Angeles?

Well, this is the moment you've been waiting for. Tuesday night, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and Senator Edward Kennedy took the Staples Center stage to uproarious applause, bringing with them the benevolent ghosts of 1960, a whiff of left-wing politics and, oh, yes — the indelible glamour of the most famous name in American politics. The Kennedy double feature created a tableau many in the Democratic base have been longing for: A pit stop on memory lane, a chance to look back fondly to a time when the major political parties contrasted starkly in their rhetoric. Forty years ago, when John F. Kennedy accepted the Democratic nomination, he stood before the delegates as a messenger of tolerance, bravery and, most of all, a tangible sense of optimism.

Now that the GOP has borrowed most of the Democrats' tried-and-true messages, and are working overtime to prove they are actually the party of diversity, the Dems are countering by eschewing their traditional left flank and moving to meet their adversaries in that nebulous region known as the political center. That means, of course, that the old lefties are left high and dry, aching for even a faint echo of the battle cries of yesteryear. And they're certainly not going to get it from Joe Lieberman or Al Gore.

Which brings us to the Kennedys. Caroline, by far the most reticent of the clan, ostensibly took the stage to introduce her uncle. But she was also there as the only remaining heir to her father's triumphant victory. In a role that probably would have fallen to her brother if he were alive, Caroline stood, visibly nervous, reminding the gathered that "we are the New Frontier." This was not a battle cry, exactly; Caroline's soft-spoken temperament doesn't lend itself to barn-burning. But she touched on the issues the Democrats wanted to hear: gun control, abortion rights, civil rights and her father's legacy.

Ted, as he came to the podium, paused to chat with Caroline, beaming and waving at the cheering crowd. He's the closest thing the Democrats have to an elder statesman, and in recent years he's begun to wear that mantle more comfortably. Looking fit and considerably less rosy than he did four years ago, the senator launched into a rousing pitch for Al Gore. Where Caroline's speech was gentle, Ted's was fierce. His voice broke with the effort, and the delegates loved every word.

Behind the scenes, there were more Kennedys. Representative Patrick Kennedy, one of the party's most prolific fund-raisers, and Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is reportedly testing the waters for a 2002 gubernatorial campaign, met with news outlets before their kin took the stage. And as they spoke with Larry King et al., the message was clear: A new generation of Kennedys is on the scene — diminished, perhaps, by their distance from the glories of the past — purposeful, committed, and, it would appear, ready for prime time.