Saturday has the potential to be a transformational moment for Barack Obama’s presidency.
Called to deliver the eulogy for his friend and mentor, Edward Kennedy, Obama can — and should — use this moment to reconnect with the values and the ideals that propelled him to the White House.
It will come as a surprise to no one that the president has been asked to deliver this eulogy, as it was Kennedy who inspired, encouraged and ultimately endorsed Obama’s audacious quest for the nation’s highest office.
Obama will well honor the man he referred to on Wednesday to as “a colleague, a counselor, and a friend.” There is no question of that.
The only question is whether Obama will honor the moment and use it, as Kennedy once did, to speak not merely of a life lost but of a cause unbowed.
To do right by Kennedy, Obama must make his words on Saturday more than a eulogy.
He must deliver a renewing address, both for the causes Kennedy championed — of which the first and foremost is universal healthcare — and for the presidency in which the late senator invested as much hope as the most idealistic Obama volunteer.
Obama must speak in the Kennedy tradition when he rises to speak Saturday morning at Boston’s Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
To do so, the president will need to begin with an understanding that Ted Kennedy established his reputation not merely as an orator but as the undisputed tribune of contemporary liberalism with his remarkable 1968 eulogy for his slain brother, former New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
The 36-year-old senator from Massachusetts, who had until then been seen as little more than a political hanger-on, suddenly shone as the defender of the dream — the champion of the ideals expressed during his brother’s groundbreaking peace-and-justice campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“We loved him as a brother, and as a father, and as a son. From his parents, and from his older brothers and sisters — Joe and Kathleen and Jack — he received an inspiration which he passed on to all of us. He gave us strength in time of trouble, wisdom in time of uncertainty, and sharing in time of happiness. He will always be by our side,” Kennedy began, his voice cracking with emotion. “Love is not an easy feeling to put into words. Nor is loyalty, or trust, or joy. But he was all of these. He loved life completely and he lived it intensely.”