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Beebe Memorial Cathedral -- an open letter to Senator Ted Kennedy

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Message Jayne Stahl


Dear Senator Kennedy,
Heartfelt thanks for an exuberant, and inspirational appearance, and speech today at Beebe Memorial Cathedral in Oakland.   You and Rep. Barbara Lee were both terrific!  
As you stood on the podium, and reminded us of a movement, forty-odd years ago, one that embraced the aspirations of all Americans such that their reach exceed their grasp, a time when public service wasn't viewed as a pejorative but a matter of principle, I saw the fire and electricity of a bygone era. 
It is not by accident that you have chosen to endorse Senator Barack Obama.  Senator Obama reminds us not so much of Camelot, but of a time when words had substance, and when candidates worked to raise the discourse from the merely personal to the visionary. 

Senator Obama's presence also reminds us of how important it is to recognize, and seek, a change of course, and to admit that even the president of the United States can make a mistake.  One cannot help but recall President Kennedy's last press conference in which he said that he was beginning to rethink his commitment of 15,000 troops to Vietnam, as well as his meeting with a French journalist, days before his assassination, to discuss his thoughts on the need to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, and accept the fact that we are in a global economy.  This was 45 years ago, and the 43rd president of the United States has yet to accept, and honor that fact.  
You are so right to remind us of your brother, and our former president, and the need to revive the spirit of the Peace Corps, to engage an otherwise disenfranchised youth, and to work for the principle of economic justice, a vision shared by Martin Luther King.    It is only through our youth that we may reshape this country, and restore those civil liberties and protections which have been compromised by the Bush administration's kamakaze mission on the Constitution
 From the laughter, and applause, of the feisty eighty year old African-American woman seated beside me, who worked on the campaign of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to the contagious chorus of Latinos for Obama "si, se puede, si, se puede," one couldn't help but feel a desperation,to the starry-eyed gaze of a UC Berkeley undergraduate waiting at the door, a palpable hunger came from that cathedral-- a passion for substantive, and meaningful change.  
Senator, you are so right about the importance of Barack Obama's appeal to a new, emerging generation of Americans, and I hope that you will stand by your promise that Obama provide the same skillful leadership as President Kennedy did, leadership that took risks in the interest of the greater good, not the greater God.       
One would expect Senator Obama, too, to show deference for the First and Fourth Amendments inasmuch as he taught constitutional law, and will thus be less inclined to treat the Constitution like a vestigial organ, or an archaism, like his predecessor.  One would hope that Barack Obama would respect the Magna Carta, and Geneva Conventions, as well as show good judgment in choosing an Attorney General who will honor human rights and civil liberties. 
Maybe, as some are suggesting, if elected, Senator Obama might even consider a superlative litigator with a quicksilver mind like John Edwards for that position in his cabinet.  Interestingly, during the Kodak debate, in Los Angeles, it was Obama who suggested that Edwards' voice will be heard for a "long time to come, not Hillary Clinton.  One hopes he will remember saying this in a year from now and, if not, will be reminded. 
Personally, I don't trust anyone who isn't willing to admit they made a mistake, and I admire John Edwards ability to admit he was wrong in voting to authorize sending troops to Iraq.   

 In the end, this election will not come down to personality, and likability, after all, but to character and judgment.  The inability to acknowledge acting in error, or change course, demonstrates a fissure in character that is not unlike the one that has kept us on a collision course in the Middle East for nearly a decade.
You are right to point out that Senator Obama's focus is on what's ahead, and not what's behind us.   We need a return to statesmanship, and far-sightedness.  We need to affirm the future not as an escape from the past, but as validation that the present can be transformed in ways that enhance the participation of the least, as well as the greatest, among us. 
While he doesn't magically combine the eye of a dreamer with the hard edge of a pragmatist like your brother, and our former president, once did, most importantly, Obama's vision,  grace, and hopefulness can only improve a tattered moral landscape.
Senator, your lifetime of devotion to those principles for which both of your brothers died will never be forgotten by all those who value courage, and basic human decency.

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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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