Kennedy Endorses Obama at American University

by Lagan Sebert
Special to iVoryTowerz

I immediately quit being annoyed at the large man blocking my view as I noticed him choking back tears. It’s not something I’m used to seeing at a political rally, so I decided to just let it slide.

The reason for the tears: Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) accepted an endorsement from Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy (D-MA) at American University’s Bender Arena today (Monday, Jan. 28). Both Senators portrayed the moment as historic, in spite of a campaign season exhausted by endorsements. When everyone from Ted Danson (Hillary Clinton) to Pat Sajak (Fred Thompson) to Ric Flair and Chuck Norris (both for Mike Huckabee!) are publicly tossing out their support for presidential candidates, how much can an endorsement really matter?

But for many Obama supporters this particular endorsement signals the passing of the baton from a family cherished in the hearts’ of Americans to their candidate. Obama said he was “humbled” by the Kennedy dynasty, which he said embodied the “best of the Democratic Party.” Kennedy repeatedly compared Obama to his older brother John, who inspired a new generation of American leaders.

“I feel change in the air,” said Kennedy to roars of cheers. “Barack Obama can renew the belief that the country's best days are still to come. I’ve found my candidate and I think you have too.””

Claims of lofty ideals and promises of change are common at political rallies, but the uncommon aspect to Obama’s campaign is his ability to turn an entire arena into a frenzy of giddy excitement. His ability as an international leader has yet to be tested, but his ability to campaign sets him apart in the political field. It’s like watching Jordan in '93 or The Beatles in '65. He is simply ON!

“I will never forget this,” someone yelled into a cell phone. “I want to touch him,” a girl pleaded as she pushed her way toward his outstretched hand. “He’s beautiful,” another girl told her friends.

Obama’s almost messianic support seems just a little less bizarre due to his perceived comfort with the attention and the expectations.

American University, which has a reputation as a liberal campus and was named the most politically active school in the country by The Princeton Review in 2006, appeared to be friendly ground for both Obama and Kennedy.

The university also has a history with the Kennedys. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy used American University as his platform to call on the Soviet Union to work with the United States on a nuclear test ban treaty.

At today's event, an estimated five thousand people filled the arena and thousands more were turned away. Students began lining up outside as early as five in the morning for the midday rally. In line, I overheard people describing the intricacies of the delegate breakdowns in the western states while others argued about where the university's sports teams should compete and in what collegiate sports divisions. It’s obvious where priorities lie on campus.

Obama said endorsements from the Kennedy family were about more than politics to him. He said his father came to study in the United States with help from education legislation pushed through by John F. Kennedy.

Obama talked of seeing portraits of John and Sen. Robert Kennedy on walls and copies of their speeches on bookshelves. He said it was proof that their dream has endured and that they continue to inspire Americans.

Kennedy’s endorsement also adds a strategic boost in the face of the coming so-called “Super Tuesday” primaries (Feb. 5). One of the demographics where the Kennedy family has proved most popular is the Latino population; a population Obama has struggled to win and one that will command a lot of attention in states like California and New York, which vote on Feb. 5.

From the evidence at American University, Barack Obama looks to be trying to sustain a wave of momentum from his South Carolina win by doing what he does best: delivering powerful oratories that are as vague as they are stirring to crowds of adoring fans.

For more background on the election campaign, please see these archival posts:

(Photos of Sen. Barack Obama hugging a fan, and Sen. Edward Kennedy shaking hands at American University © copyright Sarah Dorsey and used with permission. The photo editing was performed by Lagan Sebert. To see full video coverage of the endorsements of Sen. Barack Obama by various members of the Kennedy clan at American University from C-SPAN, please check below.)

(Editor's Note: To see full coverage of the endorsements of Barack Obama by various members of the Kennedy clan, please see The American Observer, which is written and edited by students and faculty from the School of Communication at American University. Both Lagan Sebert and Sarah Dorsey have contributed items regularly to The American Observer since September of 2006.)

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