Standing before a packed auditorium of nearly 4,000 American University students Senator Edward Kenney, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, and Caroline Kennedy passed the torch to a new generation, and formally endorsed Barack Obama.
There had been rumors in the party for the past week that Ted Kennedy was not very pleased with President Clinton’s campaign tactics, and he even went so far as to personally call him to tell him so. However, even as the news broke the other night that Caroline Kennedy was going to write an op-ed piece in the New York Times for Obama, few in the media believed that Sen. Kennedy would break his silence. That all changed yesterday.
Ted Kennedy approached the podium, his frailty and old age apparent, amongst a sea of fresh faces that weren’t alive to witness his fight for civil rights or his bid for the presidency nearly three decades ago. The barn-burner that ensued left few of those same people questioning why they call him the “Liberal Lion of the Senate.” Kennedy railed against cynicism and a “politics of distortion” while the crowd intermittently screamed back “yes we can.”
In what can be considered the biggest refutation of Hillary Clinton’s campaign to date, Kennedy took up nearly every accusation by the Clintons. "With Barack Obama we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender, ethnic group against ethnic group, and straight against gay," Kennedy said.
"There was another time, when another young candidate was running for president and challenging America to cross a new frontier. He faced criticism from the preceding Democratic president, who was widely respected in the party," Kennedy contiuned, referring to Harry S. Truman.
"And John Kennedy replied, 'The world is changing. The old ways will not do. ... It is time for a new generation of leadership.’ "So it is with Barack Obama.”
The end of his speech boasted what I thought was the sharpest jab at Clinton, with the Senator chuckling that he knows he is “ready to lead on Day One.”
There are several tangible benefits that Obama will receive from this endorsement. First and foremost, it will offer cover for other high profile politicians to jump on the bandwagon. I personally witnessed the commanding respect that Kennedy has over his colleagues when I interned in the Senate last spring. Many Democratic Senators look to him for guidance and leadership. Kennedy’s endorsement is likely to open up the flood gates to other like-minded officials.
Second, and probably most useful, Kennedy has promised to stump for Obama in the Southwestern states before the February 5th primary. This could greatly help him with his lagging support among Latinos and older voters that associate Kennedy with his initiatives on immigration reform and health care.
Lastly, there is a huge symbolic benefit from this endorsement. Aside from a coronation of the Kennedy image, this endorsement is largely apolitical. Senator Kennedy did not stand to gain politically from this move. If anything, it may severely endanger his relationship with Hillary is she becomes the nominee. Additionally, Caroline’s endorsement may bear even greater weight. She mostly stays out of the spotlight, and to the best of my knowledge has never formally endorsed a candidate. Furthermore, for her to write something as personal as a piece entitled “A President like My Father,” really hits home with Americans hungry for another administration like Kennedy’s.
Only time will tell how important yesterday was, but if Obama wins the nomination I’ll bet it will be seen as a turning point.