A Torch Passed

A Torch Passed

With a veritable Mount Rushmore of Kennedy faces arrayed behind him, Barack Obama received powerful symbolic and political support from the icons of the liberal establishment.


[dsl:video youtube=”0Eawu8pQxRI&feature=user” size=”small”]

At 12:40 pm on Monday, a side door to the main athletic arena at American University in Washington, DC, swept open. In walked a big entourage of bright-eyed, winter-jacketed people. In the front, holding tightly to the arm of a slender young man with thinning hair, was Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Thin and frail-looking, the Kennedy matriarch was guided to a row of bleachers filled with hundreds of cheering students, locals and university staff. A hush fell over them as they watched the elderly woman doff her long cashmere coat and take a seat. “This is really something,” said a blonde journalist standing next to me in the press corral a few feet away. “I mean, it is EUNICE,” she whispered.

The arrival of Kennedy Shriver to the arena–where 6,000 chanting people had gathered–was an early indication that pungent symbolism was on tap.

Barely forty-eight hours after Senator Barack Obama claimed a decisive victory in the Democratic primary vote in South Carolina, it appeared that this part of the old-guard Democratic establishment had decided to end any coyness about which of the three leading presidential candidates it supports. The Kennedys–for all their foibles, and the aura of promise unfulfilled that hangs on Ted–are the biggest “get” for any Democratic political candidate with serious aspirations of national leadership.

Patrick Kennedy was first to take the podium. His voice uncharacteristically thin (at least for a Kennedy), he spoke about a need for increased funding for mental health services, and lauded Senator Obama as the candidate of “hope” and “vision.” Then Caroline Kennedy made a brief, measured endorsement of Barack Obama–in which she noted that her three children had been the “first ones” to bring Senator Obama to her attention some time ago. Then Senator Ted Kennedy launched into a stemwinder that included a few firm swipes at Senator Hillary Clinton.

Both former Senator John Edwards and Senator Clinton are “my friends,” Ted Kennedy said, and he urged those in the audience to respect them, and to provide “which candidate wins the nomination your enthusiastic support.” But for the next fifteen minutes, Ted Kennedy made the case for why Senator Barack Obama best exemplifies what Martin Luther King Jr., termed “the urgency of now.”

With jowls and white hair shaking, Ted Kennedy identified Senator Obama as the candidate who appeals to Americans’ “better angels”–a comment impossible to intepret any other way than as a rebuke of the Clinton campaign’s recent attacks on Senator Obama. “He is a different kind of candidate, and he is running a different kind of campaign,” Sen. Kennedy said. “He knows that is not all about him, but about all of US.” Kennedy seemed gleeful, and a bit relieved: his large and well-oiled network of union, Latino, gay and lesbian supporters were undoubtedly taken by the symbolism of the moment, too.

By the time Senator Obama took the stage, he seemed a bit stunned. “Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!,” the American University students had shouted, but their chant soon became “Yes We Can.” “I stand here today with a great deal of humility,” Senator Obama began.

Considering that Mount Rushmore of Kennedy faces arrayed behind him, it is no wonder. And on February 5, it may be difficult for even the Kennedy-haters in the electorate to put aside the image of the lanky young Senator from Illinois, graciously accepting the mantle of the Democratic Party’s most revered members.

Thank you for reading The Nation

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply-reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Throughout this critical election year and a time of media austerity and renewed campus activism and rising labor organizing, independent journalism that gets to the heart of the matter is more critical than ever before. Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to properly investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories into the hands of readers.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Ad Policy