Ted Kennedy, Toni Morrison Endorse Barack Obama

January 28, 2008 · Print This Article · Email This Post

Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy

Political giant and power broker Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) upstaged President Bush’s last State of the Union address tonight and endorsed Barack Obama as the Democratic Party’s nominee for President this afternoon at American University’s Bender Arena. The move is said to have dismayed Hillary Clinton, who had asked long-time friend Kennedy to at least remain neutral. But Kennedy grew frustrated with the campaign antics of the Billary show, including some of Bill Clinton’s “Mouth of the South” recent remarks in South Carolina which Kennedy viewed as overtly racial. Among other handy attributes, Kennedy has a large and loyal following within the Latino community, which also will be important for Obama.

Crowds began gathering at 5:30 a.m. for the afternoon event, with people traveling from all over the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. The line stretched for blocks, and the arena was full by about 11:30 a.m., over an hour before Obama’s endorsement.

Caroline Kennedy spoke first, in a electrically charged atmosphere jam packed with supporters. She said the longing for a charismatic leader “is even more profound today” than it was when her father, John F. Kennedy, Jr., was elected President. The first people to make her realize “that Barack Obama is the president we need” were her three children (Rose, Tatiana and Jack), whose excitement about Obama piqued her curiousity. Obama is “already inspiring Americans young and old,” she said. Kennedy commented that Obama is the candidate who can live up to ideals of “hope, justice, opportunity and peace…Together we can do great things. Yes we can, yes we can,” she added.

Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy at American University

In what was described by one CNN commentator as a “generational passing of the torch,”Senator Kennedy, a 45-year political veteran, said: “I feel change in the air. Every time I’ve been asked over the past year who I would support in the Democratic Primary, my answer has always been the same: I’ll support the candidate who inspires me, who inspires all of us, who can lift our vision and summon our hopes and renew our belief that our country’s best days are still to come. I’ve found that candidate. And it looks to me like you have too.

“I believe there is one candidate who has extraordinary gifts of leadership and character, matched to the extraordinary demands of this moment in history. He understands what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the ‘fierce urgency of now.’ He will be a president who refuses to be trapped in the patterns of the past. He is a leader who sees the world clearly without being cynical. He is a fighter who cares passionately about the causes he believes in, without demonizing those who hold a different view. He is tough-minded, but he also has an uncommon capacity to appeal to ‘the better angels of our nature.’

“…I am proud to stand here today and offer my help, my voice, my energy and my commitment to make Barack Obama the next President of the United States.”

Patriotic

“Like most of the nation, I was moved four years ago as he told us a profound truth– that we are not, we must not be, just red states and blue states, but one United States. And since that time I have marveled at his grit and his grace as he traveled this country and inspired record turnouts of people of all ages, of all races, of all genders, of all parties and faiths to get ‘fired up’ and ‘ready to go.’

“I’ve seen him connect with people from every walk of life and with Senators on both sides of the aisle. With every person he meets, every crowd he inspires, and everyone he touches, he generates new hope that our greatest days as a nation are still ahead, and this generation of Americans, like others before us, can unite to meet our own rendezvous with destiny.

“We know the true record of Barack Obama. There is the courage he showed when so many others were silent or simply went along. From the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq. And let no one deny that truth.”

“There is the great intelligence of someone who could have had a glittering career in corporate law, but chose instead to serve his community and then enter public life. There is the tireless skill of a Senator who was there in the early mornings to help us hammer out a needed compromise on immigration reform– who always saw a way to protect both national security and the dignity of people who do not have a vote. For them, he was a voice for justice. And there is the clear effectiveness of Barack Obama in fashioning legislation to put high quality teachers in our classrooms — and in pushing and prodding the Senate to pass the most far-reaching ethics reform in its history.

Patriotic

Now, with Barack Obama, there is a new national leader who has given America a different kind of campaign — a campaign not just about himself, but about all of us. A campaign about the country we will become, if we can rise above the old politics that parses us into separate groups and puts us at odds with one another…With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion.

“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.”

“With Barack Obama, we will close the door on the old economics that has written off the poor and left the middle class poorer and less secure. He offers a strategy for prosperity — so that America will once again lead the world in better standards of life. With Barack Obama, we will break the old gridlock and finally make health care what it should be in America — a fundamental right for all, not just an expensive privilege for the few. We will make the United States the great leader and not the great roadblock in the fateful fight against global warming.

“And with Barack Obama, we will end a war in Iraq that he has always stood against, that has cost us the lives of thousands of our sons and daughters, and that America never should have fought. I have seen him in the Senate. He will keep us strong and defend the nation against real threats of terrorism and proliferation.

Patriotic

“…I am convinced we can reach our goals only if we are ‘not petty when our cause is so great’ — only if we find a way past the stale ideas and stalemate of our times — only if we replace the politics of fear with the politics of hope — and only if we have the courage to choose change.”

“Barack Obama is the one person running for President who can bring us that change. Barack Obama is the one person running for President who can be that change.

“I love this country. I believe in the bright light of hope and possibility. I always have, even in the darkest hours. I know what America can achieve. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it — and with Barack Obama, we can do it again.

“I know that he’s ready to be President on day one. And when he raises his hand on Inauguration Day, at that very moment, we will lift the spirits of our nation and begin to restore America’s standing in the world…I believe that a wave of change is moving across America. If we do not turn aside, if we dare to set our course for the shores of hope, we together will go beyond the divisions of the past and find our place to build the America of the future.”

“My friends, I ask you to join in this historic journey — to have the courage to choose change. It is time again for a new generation of leadership. It is time now for Barack Obama.”

Barack Obama's Grandmother, Sarah Hussein Obama, in Kenya

When Obama took the podium, he said: “I stand here today with a great deal of humility. I know what your support means.“ He said that sharing the podium with Kennedy was “more than just politics for me. It is personal. I was too young to remember John Kennedy, and I was just a child when Robert Kennedy ran for President…I saw how my mother and grandparents spoke about them and about our nation’s life as a time of great hope and achievement…They inspired families…and I think about my own sense of what is possible in this country.”

Obama spoke of his first trip to his grandmother’s modest home in Nyangoma Kogalo in Western Kenya, near Lake Victoria, and asking her about his father, Barack Obama, Sr., a senior economist with the Kenyan government who died in a 1982 car accident. “Is there anything left of him?” he asked. His grandmother opened a trunk and took out more than 30 letters his father had written to American colleges and universities, “all filled with the hope of a young man who had been born into poverty but who dreamed of more for his life.” His father was a goat herder before winning a scholarship to study in the United States, and the Kennedy Foundation, which helped Kenyan students pay for travel, paid Obama, Sr.’s way to the U.S. As a result of these events, Obama said, “I stand before you today, inspired by America’s past, filled with hope for America’s future and determined to do my part in writing our next great chapter.”

Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author

The acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning black author Toni Morrison, also a Nobel Laureate, endorsed Obama in a letter praising his creativity and genius. It was her first public presidential endorsement and despite having years ago called President Clinton the nation’s “first black President,’ based on his upbringing and outlook, she, too, bypassed Hillary Clinton. While Morrison has previously stated that she admires Hillary Clinton’s political mastery and depth of knowledge, she favors Obama’s vision, writing: “In addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don’t see in other candidates…That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naiveté. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it.”

“Wisdom is a gift,” she continued. “You can’t train for it, inherit it, learn it in a class, or earn it in the workplace — that access can foster the acquisition of knowledge, but not wisdom.” In a written statement, Obama said he was “deeply moved and honored” by the letter.

Read Obama’s South Carolina primary victory speech.

Photo credit: Brook Kraft / Corbis for Time and Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

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