Tuesday, August 26, 2008

1 Party, 3 Families

America may be the world's foremost democracy, but her politics also has a tendency to throw up dynasties, and the Democratic Party is showcasing two old ones that still have a hold on their politics, and one new one that is in the process of trying to secure such a hold.

No Kennedy has held national office since JFK's assassination in 1963, but the Kennedy appeal has remained undimmed over the decades. Senator Edward Kennedy used it to great effect in his failed bid for the presidency against incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980, and yesterday he was centre stage again at the Democratic Convention in Denver, perhaps staging a final exit for the Kennedy family, and trying to pass his lustre on to the new Obama clan. Ted Kennedy will always carry with him the burden of the Chappaquiddick tragedy, and his serious misjudgements over that affair, but he also seems to have spent the whole of his time since trying to exorcise that ghost in his tireless legislative activity in the senate. The hagiographic video of Kennedy, shown to the convention (see it here) emphasised this, and Kennedy's own speech utilised famous lines from his brother's inauguration speech and his own 1980 convention speech to "pass the torch" on to Obama. If there's no Kennedy around now, they seem to be saying, then go for Obama as the next best thing.

The Clintons have a rather more difficult task, and Hillary's speech tonight is arguably the most crucial speech of the convention. They have virtually owned this party since Bill's first presidential election victory in 1992, and giving it up is excruciatingly difficult. Yet there is no virtue for either of them in begrudging Obama his victory, whatever slights they think they have received at his hands. The fact is, if the Clintons don't seem to pull out all the stops in trying to get an Obama victory in November, then whatever happens to him, her future runs for the presidency are doomed. Hillary is a doughty street fighter who is down, but certainly not out; tonight she needs to show as well that she understands the long game.

It may seem ironic for the Democrats to be showcasing their dynasties, but here at least they have an advantage over their no less family-oriented rivals, for the Republicans next week desperately need to make people forget their most recent triumphant political family. That will be a danse macabre worth witnessing.

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