Monday, December 05, 2016

Elegy for Elegance

President Obama hosted his last Kennedy Center Honors at the White House Sunday.  In his remarks introducing the honored guests (actor Al Pacino, pianist Martha Argerich, songsters Mavis Staples, James Taylor and the Eagles) he referenced the origins of the awards--and the Kennedy Center--in the Kennedy administration's unprecedented support for the arts, including bringing artists of various kinds to the White House.  He mentioned that three grandchildren of Jack and Jackie Kennedy were present.

The Kennedy administration had succeeded in passing legislation to create a national center for the arts in Washington.  After the assassination, many thousands of Americans wrote letters to request that the center be named after John F. Kennedy.  I was one of them, and I still have the reply I received, affirming that it would indeed be called the Kennedy Center.

At a crucial moment in the 2008 primaries, JFK's daughter Caroline wrote an oped saying that she saw in Barack Obama many qualities of her father, and she was supporting him for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Those were her children at the White House Sunday.)

 That led to a cascade of Kennedys offering support, including Senator Ted Kennedy and even Maria Shriver, the wife of the Republican governor of California.  She showed up at an Obama celebrity event and spontaneously gave the campaign one of its signatures when she said "We are the people we have been waiting for."

In eight years in the White House, Barack and Michelle Obama have expanded the White House embrace of artists and entertainers, in quantity and in diversity.  The arts and entertainment communities clearly felt the connection.

This brief speech, eloquent and witty, and these events, demonstrate this President's ease with creators in arts and entertainment, including a knowledge, understanding and feeling for what they do.  This is perhaps even more remarkable in that he exhibits those same qualities in relation to achievers in the various sciences.

But this should remind us of another quality that the Obamas share with President and Mrs. Kennedy: elegance.  The style is different, but the elegance is unmistakable.  And that's something else we are really going to miss.

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