Obamalot

In this morning’s Washington Post Shailagh Murray ranks Sen. Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama along with the latter’s victories in Iowa and South Carolina as the principle reasons for the wind at Obama’s back going in to today’s Tsunami Tuesday. Last week, I argued that endorsements don’t matter. Who is right? Murray notes that Sen. Kennedy called the Spanish language daily La Opinion to make a plug for Obama and that the newspaper did in fact endorse him. They did so because, in the heat of battle, Hillary backed off her previously stated support for driver’s licenses for undocumented workers, while Obama remains committed to the proposal. Few people can deliver a stem winder of a speech the way Ted Kennedy can. I am sure that it helps fire up a crowd, especially a crowd of left-leaning Democrats, to have Kennedy introduce Obama at rallies. But, I do not believe that many people leave those events saying, "Wow, that was some introduction. I am going to support Obama because of it." If Kennedy delivered and Obama fell flat, the effect would be worse. More importantly, Kennedy’s name is not on the ballot today. One of the ways that the Kennedy endorsement mattered is that it gave people permission to not like the Clintons. When it leaked that Bill Clinton called Ted Kennedy to urge him to stay neutral, and so angered the Senator with a Clintonian sense of entitlement that he announced his endorsement shortly thereafter--that story told us something we wanted to forget about the Clintons. One of the oddest characteristics of polls this cycle is that on issue after issue, Democratic primary voters say they trust Hillary more when it comes to handling health care, or the economy, or national security, but then she loses. People know that the next president is going to be in their living room every night on the television for four years and they want someone they like. When Ted Kennedy thumbed his nose at Hillary, it made it safe for everyone else to do so also. Much has been made of the Kennedy mystique, of the air of Camelot that surrounds the hallowed name. But I don’t recall that mystique doing much for John Kerry who tried very hard to cultivate the Camelotian glow and on whose behalf Ted Kennedy worked tirelessly in 2004. Kennedy’s endorsement of Barack was "on message" in a way others have not been because voters can see Obama carrying on the inspirational torch that John F. Kennedy lit in 1960. There is, in the life of a nation, times like this when we get to witness that which we had not really expected and did not realize how badly we needed, until, with our own eyes, suddenly filling with tears, we recognize that the person next to us is feeling the exact same pride and hope. The "Yes We Can" video running around the internet the past couple days, being endlessly forwarded, has produced that effect. I can’t tell you how many emails I got saying, "It made me cry." My parents kept a framed copy of JFK’s inaugural address above the dictionary stand. Re-reading that speech provokes the same strong emotions as the Obama video. JFK did that for America. Obama is doing it today. To the extent the Kennedy endorsement matters, it is because of this: we want to believe again, all of us, the way we did when JFK was president. In Obama, the Kennedy familial heirs have discovered a believable political heir. Their endorsement does not matter on its face: It matters because the rest of us have discovered the same thing. Michael Sean Winters
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