Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Ted and Caroline Kennedy’s endorsement of Barack Obama helped clarify something for me.

For some time I’ve been conscious that I am responding positively to Obama’s candidacy. And I’ve asked myself “why?” I know it isn’t his position on issues, since among the Democrats there’s not much difference between them. And I know it isn’t his oratorical skills, although he certainly has them in abundance. And it isn’t because he’s black, although it would be great for us to prove to ourselves and the world that we are willing to elect a black president.

So – why? It has to do with history, my history, and how it unfolded. I was 27 in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was running for president. I’d embarked on a promising film career. As a filmmaker I admired Edward R. Murrow because he so powerfully used films and television to confront the major issues of our time. As a news and politics junkie and a California resident who’d disliked Richard Nixon for as long as I could remember, I was inspired by Kennedy.

After 8 years of tired and conservative leadership I was inspired by the possibility that my country could be different. I was convinced that JFK could make it happen. I’d never thought seriously about joining the government and taking an active part in making that vision a reality. But Jack Kennedy inspired me do just that, and on October 30, 1961 I was sworn in as a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Information Agency. Who administered the oath? Ed Murrow, who’d also been inspired by what Kennedy represented and had become head of USIA.

In Barack Obama I see similar leadership qualities and commitments. And I see that he is inspiring a new young generation to get involved, to believe that change is possible, to cast aside the cynicism and selfishness that has characterized our leaders for much too long.

Until the Kennedys endorsed Obama and likened what was happening now with what happened way back when, I hadn’t put it together. I hadn’t seen that it is personal for me. It’s about a time when I was young and idealistic and willing to live my life consistent with my ideals and what I thought was possible. It’s not about a yearning for the past. It is about having the present represent a new possibility.

I’ve only got one problem with all this. In his recent column on Ted Kennedy’s fiery and effective endorsement speech David Brooks wrote, “The old guy stole the show.” In three weeks I’ll be the same age as the ‘old guy.’


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