Will Obama Carry On The Kennedy Legacy?

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — The young senator inspired a new generation of voters with his message of change and extended America’s hand to the global community in an effort to promote a different kind of diplomacy.

One magazine characterized him as having a “quick charm, the patience to listen, a sure social touch, an interest in knowledge and a greed for facts.”

A biographer recalled that he “had to touch the secret fears and ambivalent longings of the American heart, divine and speak to the desires of a swiftly changing nation — his message grounded on his own intuition of some vague and spreading desire for national renewal.”

Those words could have been written about Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency last year but actually come from coverage about the ascendancy of John F. Kennedy to the White House.

Kennedy’s presidency is remembered as “Camelot,” for the Broadway show about an idealized King Arthur’s Court that opened the month after Kennedy won the presidency in November 1960.

After JFK’s assassination in 1963, the Camelot legacy was handed down to younger brother Robert Kennedy, who served as John Kennedy’s attorney general and was later elected to the Senate from New York.

Ted Kennedy assumed the mantle after Robert Kennedy was assassinated during his run for the presidency in 1968.

And with the death of the youngest Kennedy brother, the question arises: Has Obama become the Kennedy family’s heir apparent?

Many saw Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama in the Democratic primaries last year as his handing the keys to Camelot to someone outside the family.

Kennedy’s son Patrick, a Democratic congressman from Rhode Island, has kept a relatively low profile in Congress and has faced substance abuse problems that have led to stints in rehab facilities.

JFK’s daughter, Caroline, stepped into the political spotlight recently, only later to drop out of the running for Hillary Clinton’s vacant Senate seat.

Robert Kennedy’s son Joe was derailed after a messy personal life involving a high-profile annulment, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, has largely stayed out of the spotlight.

Others, like Robert Kennedy Jr., have careers in public service outside of government.

But Stephen Hess, a former staffer in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations and an adviser to presidents Ford and Carter, says that right now, there are no other Kennedys to assume Ted Kennedy’s place in American politics.

“These families can kind of go into a quiet state and then can flare up again. … It doesn’t look like there is a Kennedy in the immediate future and the nation’s political history,” he said. “No one will ever count out the Kennedys, and so there will be others.”

“We often keep turning to the same names. … At the moment, it does not appear that there will be a Kennedy in the Congress other than his son,” he added.

Hess, who wrote the book “America’s Political Dynasties,” says that while there are comparisons to be made, Obama is not necessarily the heir apparent.

“He’s a voice of his own, had his own agenda. … He will build his own legacy,” he said of the president.

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