I did not support John F. Kennedy for the Democratic nomination in 1960. I was for the brainy and liberal Adlai Stevenson, who was the favorite of students at elite colleges and prep schools. Kennedy was wonderful: a handsome war hero, fresh, and eloquent. But what had he done?
I remember the chants, " All the Way with Adl...ai."
When his candidacy fizzled, I supported the canny Lyndon B. Johnson, who had a gift for legislation, and had passed in the Senate the historic Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first since Reconstruction. I thought he had the experience, conviction and smarts to push through a liberal agenda.
After Kennedy won the election, I remember the summer of 1962 that I spent registering Blacks to vote, and having to defend Kennedy's record toward Blacks with my fellow civil rights workers, who were disgusted with him. News reports of the time portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. as frustrated and outraged at Kennedy's waffling support.
But eventually, the aspirations of Kennedy and MLK inspired and empowered LBJ to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a host of other wonderful New Frontier programs -- which constituted the most progressive record put up by any Democrat since FDR in the 1930s.
In 1968, Gene McCarthy was the Obama of his time. He had the courage to oppose an evil war and to come out against LBJ for the nomination. When LBJ dropped out, after McCarthy scared him in New Hampshire primaries, Robert F. Kennedy jumped in. The anti-war movement went ballistic and called Kennedy opportunistic, ruthless and cynical. I supported RFK because I thought he had the experience and commitment and passion that would bring an end to the war and bring progress for the poorest.
I thought Gene was "too cool" and would not be effective. Hubert Humphrey won the nomination easily and lost to Nixon.
In this year's election, first and foremost, I want a Democrat to win.
This is not a lock.
There is a vicious right wing conspiracy waiting to swing into action, with or without the blessing of the Republican Party. The demonization will begin immediately. They will come after any Democratic candidate like a pack of wild dogs.
We saw the Dark Forces at work against the Clintons, Gore and Kerry. There are so many entrenched interests -- including the corporate war machine -- which will do and say anything to keep the Democrats out of the White House; and keep their coffers gushing.
We are out there without a net. Is there a hidden anti-black vote? Is there an anti-woman vote?
"We need a President willing to engage in a fistfight to safeguard and restore our national virtues," said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in a recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton.
This is going to be a tough fight. Is poetry going to be enough?
Second, I want a Democrat who can take the White House and fix our problems by skillfully going against the entrenched interests that have screwed up our country.
After being impressed by Biden, flirting with Richardson, loving Edwards, agreeing with Kucinich, I am now ready to make an adult decision.
Our place in the world is in shambles; we have squandered the moral authority built up over a hundred years. It is going to take a deft hand for us to get out of Iraq, rebuild our goodwill in the Muslim world, Europe and Asia, and still protect us from terrorism.
Our economy is in serious trouble. The dollar has fallen 40%. Everything in this country, including our bank accounts, is worth 40% less; globalization has decimated our manufacturing base.
A groundswell for change, and promises of change, will not produce change. Candidates must eventually succeed in the tough, stalemated political system that they are criticizing.
These are perilous times. We are going to need a fighter -- someone who is willing to take on entrenched interests, sometimes to go against his or her friends.
Obama is a poet, one of the greatest orators and most inspiring politicians of our time. But we need more than a great orator. Messiahs don't exist in politics. We need a crafty warrior and a politician. Someone who has the experience to make change happen.
Barack Obama may be a great candidate, and may evolve into a great president. He certainly has a magical presence that speaks to the music of politics, but where is the Profile in Courage that JFK wrote about? When has he ever gone against his liberal base?
Where are his enemies?
When did he fight against the Corporations in the Senate? When did he take on the banking interests, as they made bankruptcy more difficult for the poor and middle class? When did he stand up and courageously vote for a woman's right to choose? When did he take on the Health Care Establishment? Why did he register a "present" vote in the Senate when the Republicans and conservatives voted to censure Moveon.org?
I want to see political courage. Maybe this ambiguity, this I-am-the-savior-and-above-ordinary politics is the best strategy... Be a nebulous, empty vessel with messianic, uplifting speeches. Never say anything risky. Never do anything risky.
Obama is a mirror, a chameleon; he can be whatever you want him to be, which explains his great crossover appeal.
Like a motivational speaker, he is craftily catering to a younger generation which is looking for a quick fix. A UNITER - His election at this point would be tantamount to anointing Time's 2006 "Person Of The Year" - YOU.
I am troubled by Obama's lack of enemies. This tells me something. At Harvard, when he was elected head of the Law Review, he was the compromise candidate; some said the candidate of the status quo. He voted "present" too many times in the Illinois legislature to make me comfortable. Shelby Steele, also of mixed race, wrote in Time recently that Obama is, "a bargainer, not a challenger."
For example, yesterday there was an investigative story in the New York Times about how Obama watered down his Nuclear Power Spill Disclose Bill under pressure from a $250,000 donation from Exelon Corp., the owner of the plant. Also noted was Obama's campaign manager David Axelrod's connection to the very same nuclear power company.
Hillary has her negatives. Her vote for the Iraq war was immoral and stupid. Of course, Bush didn't dupe her. She was trying to position herself as tough on national security...not a liberal. The Clintons have never been the darlings of the liberals. They were always considered traitors by the most left wing Democrats.
But the past is the past. In my heart I believe that Hillary can get us out of Iraq faster and wiser and better than Obama. She has shown more courage and experience and knows where the bodies are buried.
Hillary has many enemies because the right wing instinctively understands that she is a real threat to their interests. In today's Times, Paul Krugman compared Hillary and Obama's Health Care bills. He concludes: If Clinton wins, "there is some chance we'll get universal health care in the next administration. If Obama gets the nomination, it just won't happen."
JFK's election in 1960 was a roll of the dice, and apart from great inspiration, tragically we never really found out how that turned out. Lyndon B. Johnson carried the baton to the finish.
Effective politicians confront politics as it is, rather than flights of fantasy about what it could be. But effective politicians also hold their cards close, and don't reveal much until they have to.
So Hillary it is... with all her faults. I know her. No dice rolling here. I know the kind of change that she wants and the long time passion she brings to her progressive causes.
I trust that she will fight effectively for causes that I believe in -- getting out of Iraq, dealing with a hostile world, fixing the economy in a fair way, and enacting universal Health Care -- and will restore and fix what Bush has broken.