Bob Herbert on: A Muscular Idealism
Sargent Shriver is 88 years old, which is all the proof we need that time is flying. That he is not better known is a scandal.What a legacy.
Yet the author of a new biography of Mr. Shriver plausibly suggests that this idealistic and indefatigable man — who created and led the Peace Corps, founded Head Start, created the Job Corps and Legal Services for the poor, gave us Volunteers in Service to America, and was president and chairman of the Special Olympics — may have directly affected more people in a positive way than any American since Franklin Roosevelt.
Mr. Shriver, who has been married to John F. Kennedy's sister Eunice for more than 50 years, led the talent hunt for the new breed of public servants that staffed the Kennedy administration. You had to search hard, he felt, because those most suited for public office very often don't seek it.
The idea for the Peace Corps came up almost offhandedly during an address by Kennedy in the 1960 campaign. After the election the president asked Mr. Shriver to study the feasibility of such a program. Mr. Shriver has joked that he was the logical choice to create and lead the Peace Corps because everyone was sure it would be a disaster, and "it would be easier" for the president to fire his brother-in-law than anybody else.
A young Bill Moyers, who joined Mr. Shriver at the Peace Corps and eventually became its deputy director, said a crucial component of the corps was Mr. Shriver's deep commitment to the idea of America "as a social enterprise . . . of caring and cooperative people."
The Peace Corps turned out to be the signature success of Kennedy's New Frontier.