U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy formally endorsed Barack Obama for the Presidency on Monday, January 28, 2008. Kennedy, who made the announcement at American University in Washington, D.C., was accompanied by his niece, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, and his son, U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy. Schlossberg, the daughter of Kennedy’s brother John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, had already endorsed Obama in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times. Patrick Kennedy gave his nod to Obama along with his father.
The endorsement is a major achievement for Barack Obama, as Ted Kennedy not only is the grand old man of the Democratic Party and the leading liberal voice in America, but is the titular head of America’s most storied political family. Ted Kennedy has a weight, a gravitas, that makes him almost the equivalent of a former President. His campaigning for Obama will serve as a counterweight to ex-President Bill Clinton, who has defied political tradition and the advice of Democratic Party stalwarts and has plunged himself into politicking for his wife, Hillary. Clinton has lowered himself to the level of a trying to provoke the political equivalent of a bare-knuckled street brawl with Obama that many observers feel is demeaning to the office of the Presidency.
The brutal and negative campaigning engaged in by Bill Clinton during the run-up to the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary campaign reportedly enraged Ted Kennedy, who had called the former President and asked him to cease and desist with such divisive tactics. Bill Clinton, who seemingly has always placed personal power above ethics, even went so far as to raise the issue of race in South Carolina in what was seen as an attempt to solicit the white male vote in a state that had been part of the historic Confederacy and boasts one of the most conservative electorates in America.
Barack Obama, who is of mixed race descent but identifies himself as African American, is the first “black” candidate with a serious shot at not only the Democratic nomination, but at the Presidency.
Bill Clinton’s behavior, particularly his playing of the “race card,” engendered a strong backlash among Democratic voters, not only in the African American community, but among white voters, too. Many political pundits and a good portion of the political community at large were disgusted by Bill Clinton’s negative campaigning, and he was repudiated by not only Ted Kennedy, but by many Democratic Party regulars.
According to Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr., Bill Clinton’s unsavory antics on the campaign trail also wound up alienating many Clinton “loyalists.” According to Dionne, “Online discussion groups involving veterans of the Clinton administration reflected a sharp division in their ranks over the former president’s intervention and the beginning of a defection toward Obama, even among participants who have long held a positive view of Hillary Clinton.”
The endorsement of Ted Kennedy was sought by all three candidates. It is particularly galling to Hillary Clinton to lose Ted Kennedy (she hoped that he would at least stayed neutral) as Kennedy is the point man on health care reform, her signature issue.
Hillary Clinton has criticized Barack Obama’s health care reform plan for allegedly leaving too many people uninsured, a charge he denies, and now, with Ted Kennedy in his camp, Hilary’s criticisms will lose much of their sting. Voters will believe it is highly unlikely that the man who has stood for health care reform and universal coverage since the days of the Jimmy Carter Administration would endorse a candidate with an inadequate health plan.
It is rumored that it was Bill Clinton’s aggressive and unethical behavior while targeting Barack Obama that forced Ted Kennedy to stop sitting on the fence. Kennedy had been feeling positive towards Barack Obama, but Clinton’s negativity — particularly his comment, after Obama routed Hillary and John Edwards in the South Carolina primary that Jesse Jackson had won the Palmetto State twice in 1984 and ’88, implying that it was no big deal, just normal business for an African American candidate — forced the senator from Massachusetts to play his hand.
“Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in ’84 and ’88,” Bill Clinton had told the press after Obama’s victory. “And he ran a good campaign. And Senator Obama’s run a good campaign here.”
Bill Clinton was equating Barack Obama, a man who had won in lily-white Iowa and nearly won in equally lily-white New Hampshire, and who had racked up one more delegate in Nevada than did Hillary Clinton, with a marginal African American candidate whose political fortunes only prospered in those states with a large African American population. It was insulting not only to Barack Obama the man and to the African American community at large, but also to the legions of Obama supporters from all races who had supported him. It also ignored Obama’s wide appeal that has made him the first serious African American candidate in history.
Many white people take pride in the success of Barack Obama’s candidacy, feeling it shows a vast leap in progress in an American that has been rended by bigotry. For Bill Clinton to denigrate Obama was equivalent to the former President denying that progress had been made in the field of race relations.
With his often angry attacks on Barack Obama, it was perceived by many that Bill Clinton had gone too far. He had not only ignored Ted Kennedy’s plea to stop harassing Obama with his patented brand of logic that Obama had characterized as “untruthful,” but had compounded his sins in Kennedy’s ken by making an egregious racial comment rather than to accept his wife’s — and his own — overwhelming loss in South Carolina. Bill Clinton had been Hillary Clinton’s surrogate in the last days of the campaign, as she had abandoned South Carolina to campaign in the states that will go to the polls on February 5, 2008, Super Tuesday. The loss was as much his as hers.
Hillary Clinton was campaigning in Massachusetts, the Kennedy family’s home state, yesterday when news of Ted Kennedy’s Obama endorsement was made. Reports from the Boston Herald reveal that she was running behind schedule and her campaign seemed disorganized. Earlier, Hillary Clinton had repudiated the worst comments of her husband Bill, knowing that once again, as in many other aspects of his life such as fast food and “bimbo eruptions,” Bubba had strayed too far from home sweet home.
Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg’s endorsement of Obama was another factor in Ted Kennedy’s public embrace of Obama. Caroline’s contention that Barack Obama was the successor to her father JFK in the ability to inspire Americans, particularly young people such as her own teenage children, helps underscore the fact that he is one of the most inspiring candidates in U.S. politics since his father, and helps him assume the mantle of John F. Kennedy, the great post-Franklin D. Roosevelt symbol of the Democratic Party.
Caroline had endorsed Obama over the weekend. At the appearance with her Uncle Ted and cousin Patrick in Washington, she said that Obama provides the “same sense of hope and inspiration” as her father did.
In his own endorsement speech and subsequent interviews, Ted Kennedy avoided making explicit criticism of the Clintons, but his implicit criticism was obvious. He effective repudiated Hillary and Bill Clinton.
Addressing charges that 46-year-old Barack Obama was inexperienced, a constant theme of Hillary Clinton’s anti-Obama rhetoric, Ted Kennedy reminded the audience that the former Democratic President Harry S Truman had thought, in 1960, that 43-year-old John F. Kennedy was too young to be President. Truman had counseled JFK to “be patient” as there was a need for “someone with greater experience.”
Ted Kennedy also rejected the Clintons’ type of good cop/bad cop style of politicking, saying “With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion.”
Taking a swipe at Bill Clinton’s playing of the race card, Kennedy declared, “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.”
Ted Kennedy’s taking to the hustings to campaign as a surrogate for Obama will boost his standing among the rank and file union members and Hispanics who have given their support primarily to Clinton, as Kennedy is popular with those demographic groups. He also will provide a counterweight to Bill Clinton, but even more importantly, he and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, who also will take to the campaign trail for Obama, symbolize the passing of the mantle of President John F. Kennedy to a new person, Barack Obama, who was born in the first year of the Kennedy Administration.
In many ways, such as his overcoming of race barriers and his trumpeting of a new age of hope and opportunity for everyone, Barack Obama truly is a child, generationally, of JFK.