Kennedys and crises

Before answering Sam Tanenhaus, whose trite comments about the Kennedys in the Sunday New York Times missed the heart of the matter, let’s begin with a relevant proposal for our crisis today.

President Obama should convene an American Davos meeting, a national summit of leaders in business, finance and the arts to ask what they will do for our country. He might begin by calling on Microsoft and Intel, two of the wealthiest companies in the world, to withdraw their small-minded layoffs and use some of their enormous cash hoards to bring confidence back to America, not shatter it further.

Regarding what Mr. Tanenhaus calls “the further decline of the political fortunes” of the Kennedys:
One week ago, America and the world celebrated the Inaugural of a historic new president. One year ago, that Inaugural was made possible by the endorsements of Obama by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Caroline Kennedy, who moved the nation with her talk of a president like her father.

It was a glorious moment, possibly the single most important moment in Obama’s march to the nomination.

And now, one week after that Inaugural, and one year after that endorsement, it is essential to remember that the senator who leads the family whose fortunes Mr. Tanenhaus writes are in decline — this senator helped elect a president who is changing America, who chose a secretary of Health and Human Services who will change our troubled healthcare system, who will work with both parties on the committee chaired by Kennedy to achieve his lifetime dream of historic healthcare reform.

But there is an even larger issue. The Kennedy family has always stood for the idea that public service is an honorable profession and that people of great wealth should use their station to make our nation a better place.

In our Gilded Age, great fortunes were gobbled, great luxuries were gorged, great sums of money are hoarded by those who have the most. It is the ethic of our Gilded Age that is in decline. It is the ethic of the Kennedys, led by the president they helped elect, that is ascendant again in a nation ready to believe again that of those to whom much is given, much is expected, and that “here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.” During the Second World War, when we were in it together, movie stars and magnates risked bullets and bombs alongside taxi drivers and grocery clerks.

The Kennedys used their money and power not to shirk from service, but to relish it, with the cost of one son who gave his life, the greatness of another who saved his shipmates and rose to the presidency, the goodness of a third who lost his life trying to unite the races with a dream that has now come true, and the parliamentary skill of a fourth who embodies good will in politics and may have the most immense body of continuing achievement of any man or woman who ever set foot in the Senate. Caroline Kennedy would have made a spectacular senator. With her idealism, passion, nobility of purpose and grace, she has already left her footprint in history, more than once. The shabby way she was treated says nothing about her, and much about us, but she will be back, I promise.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be reached at and read on The Hill Pundits Blog.