Kennedy's Flame Endures

Washington Matters

Kennedy's Flame Endures

Denver -- It took Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, weakened by cancer but undaunted in spirit, to kick-start this Democratic convention. The party can't count on him to be its cornerstone anymore, but he proved again last night that he remains its touchstone. It was lucky for Democrats he walked on stage.

Many things were remarkable about the speech by this ailing and fading liberal lion of the Senate. Until the last moment, it was entirely unclear whether he could take the stage, but he did so in a dramatic way and with such a tight and message-driven address, even if sometimes haltingly delivered, that he single-handedly lit the torch again for the party's higher ideals, adding true purpose to its quadrennial gathering and uniting it, at least for the moment.

Democrats found a well of inspiration in Kennedy, who has dependably rocked convention halls since 1980 and serves as more than a nostalgic reminder of an earlier era dominated by Kennedy and his storied family's brand of liberal politics. His political heft and vital role can't be denied, even as the party that cherishes him has moved to the center and its new stars and standard bearers steer a more centrist and pragmatic path than the Great Society politics of yesteryear. 

It was Kennedy's platinum-plated endorsement of Obama, after all, that lent legitimacy to his campaign and put it in the fast lane. And it was Kennedy's surprise appearance and speech last night, after a listless and frankly dull two and a half hours of the convention's opening, that set the message and foundation for Barack Obama and the party in Denver -- a message that large change is not only possible but should be embraced.


Remarkably, Kennedy spoke exclusively about the future, not about the past or even the present. No direct mention of President Bush or John McCain or Hillary Clinton or his own illness. Whether you agree with his politics or not, it was vintage Kennedy -- on a high road and looking ahead brightly. He's not the story of this convention, but he did provide it a masterful and uniquely moving prologue.

Kennedy's best lines could easily be slipped into Obama's nomination acceptance speech. Calling for America to "rise to its best ideals" and to "restore its future" and how we are "all called to a better country" or that the "torch has passed again to a new generation of Americans" and that "the work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on."

Only Kennedy, however, could have said the following: "I know it. I've seen it. I've lived it. And we can do it again."