A plug for a new documentary, American Idealist, that might be of interest to Commonweal nation. It’s a study of Sargent Shriver, first director of the Peace Corps, director of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, Kennedy in-law and Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 1972. I managed to see the film at a showing at Notre Dame two weeks ago and the event included presentations by Shriver’s biographer, Scott Stossel,and longtime Shriver friend and colleague, and former Pennsylvania senator, Harris Wofford. It also includes several astute talking head comments by dotCommonweal’s own Jim Fisher. From the film I also learned that Shriver’s father, I think, was one of the founders of Commonweal in 1924.
The optimism of that 1960s liberalism, perhaps especially the optimism of that 1960s Catholic liberalism, is sadly a world we have lost. (One clip has Shriver planning War on Poverty projects with various nuns in habit; Wofford emphasized in his presentation Fr. Ted Hesburgh’s leading role in formation of the Peace Corps.) Although the film doesn’t highlight the point, though, I wonder if Shriver’s most important contribution, in the long run, was his work with Special Olympics, spearheaded by his wife, Eunice Kennedy. The clips of the early work with mentally handicapped children on the grounds of the Shriver estate in Maryland are quite moving.