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Monday, January 28, 2008

Symbolic Acts and Symbolic Words

We like to think that we are rational beings moved to take action upon reading or hearing or mongering up for ourselves some rational argument favoring taking that action. In fact, that is rarely the case. We much more reliably respond to symbols (the flag) and symbolic speech(I regret that I have but one life to give to my country).

Many Americans respond with anger if they see anyone, especially another American burn the flag. The people who burn one know this. They could have chosen to burn their Levis but didn't. In recent months, reprobates of the worst sort have taken to hanging nooses in various places. We all know what that means. Just hanging a rope would mean nothing. Flags and nooses are mere things but they have meaning just as "I hate America" and "I hate Niggers" do but with the possible exception of the word "Nigger," they are more powerful than the language.

Today, I saw the power of actions and words in politics, when Teddy Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, JFK's daughter and Teddy's niece, and Patrick Kennedy, Teddy's son, all spoke at a Barak Obama rally in Washington by way of endorsing him. They made quite clear that they meant to be passing on the Kennedy "torch." The Kennedy political line is coming to an end and I think they saw Barak Obama as a way of keeping its social and political values alive.

I first saw Teddy when he spoke on behalf of his brother in his campaign against Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic Nomination. Later, during the campaign against Nixon, I saw JFK give a political speech in Houston, Texas and then latter that evening saw him face a bunch of Baptist Preachers who thought they needed reassurance that he would not be answering to the Pope. Don't be surprised if desperate Republicans start questioning whether Mitt Romney will be answering to the Mormon church Elders.

Their speeches as well as that of Barak Obama were powerfully moving to someone of my age. As I watched Obama's speech, I could see Patrick and his gaze was riveted to Obama and he smiled and applauded when you would expect a true believer to do so. I suspect that Teddy was moved to act in part because what Obama had been saying resonated with him in the way his brother's speeches must have and in part because he was pissed off by Bill Clinton's attacks on Obama. As I began writing this blog, it occurred to me that Teddy might have seen what Bill Clinton was doing to Obama as little different from what Johnson and his supporters did to JFK in their effort to defeat him for the nomination.

Before they spoke, Hillary had a nice edge nationally over Barak. We will see if the action the Kennedy's took in endorsing Obama and the especially eloquent language in which they expressed their support will have a power that goes beyond your garden variety endorsement and endorsement speech. Super Tuesday may give us the answer. Alas that is the day I undergo a hip replacement and I may be too groggy that night to follow the election returns.

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