Robert Kennedy often quoted Dante that the hottest places in hell are for those who in times of crisis maintain their neutrality.
For Caroline Kennedy and for Ted Kennedy, the 2008 campaign was no time to maintain neutrality. They did not calculate the odds or hold out for the best offer or take the easy and convenient path.
Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is the lion of the Senate and the lion of American progressivism, while Caroline Kennedy is America’s first daughter who treats her father’s legacy as a precious trust. They endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) with a passion and a conviction that was extraordinary, and their comparing Obama to John Kennedy was one of those special and unique moments, so rare in American politics.
There have been many “new Kennedys” over the years, public officials who sought to claim the mantle, some with more merit than others.
What is extraordinary about this moment, this week, in this campaign is that Ted and Caroline Kennedy spoke so clearly, so passionately and with such conviction on behalf of one leader, Barack Obama, whom they believe is the true
inheritor of that mantle and that legacy.
It was a rare, special and extraordinary moment full of a passion for justice and a very profound sense of history, mission and idealism. This past week I wrote a column in The Hill, entitled “A President Like Her Father,” which follows in full, here:
Imagine this: On Jan. 20, 2009 a new young American president lifts the nation and rallies the friends of freedom around the world with an inaugural address to open a new chapter of a great nation.
Every so often there is a golden moment in the life of a generation when the Rubicon is crossed, the page is turned, the torch is passed, and America rises again.
One night when I was a young man, and the Senate worked late and the action was slow, Lloyd Bentsen told me of the day he first met Jack Kennedy.
They had been elected to Congress as two young heroes returned from war. On the floor one day, Bentsen spotted Kennedy and showed him his campaign literature. Kennedy read it with that quizzical smile and said: “Lloyd, this looks awfully familiar.”
Turns out Bentsen had borrowed heavily from Kennedy’s brochure. The fighting sailor of the Pacific had become the brave bomber of the Atlantic. Two young Americans entered Congress with great dreams for themselves and our country.
Lloyd Bentsen won landslides in Texas, bringing together whites, blacks and Hispanics. President Kennedy, in June of 1963, in one of the greatest presidential moments since Lincoln, told the nation that civil rights was a moral duty that Americans must face with courage and principle.
It was a profile in true courage for JFK to challenge his electoral base in the South. Fanning the flames of division is easy; dousing those flames is hard; challenging those flames in times of crisis is presidential leadership.
Faced with his own great crisis, while others panicked with tactics that do not make us proud, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was cool, calm, and right. At the highest levels of leadership, under the greatest of attacks, Barack Obama acted like a president.
And now the first daughter of America speaks from her heart and the lion of the Senate roars with his passion for justice.
The torch is passed, the legacy lives on.