ON DEADLINE: Kennedy dumps on Clintons
By RON FOURNIER, Associated Press WriterMon Jan 28, 1:21 PM ET
Ted Kennedy did more than welcome Barack Obama into the warm embrace of his legendary family. He also consigned the Clintons and their brass-knuckle brand of politics to the past.
"With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion," the Massachusetts senator said Monday in endorsing Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. "With Barack Obama, we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender, ethnic group against ethnic group, and straight against gay."
In an eloquent speech laced with stinging subtleties, Kennedy called Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton a friend who "has been in the forefront of issues." But he might as well have called her a "has-been" a legacy of 1990s-style politics that rewards distortion, cynicism, self-aggrandizement and even failure.
Because that must be what Kennedy believes; there is no other way to interpret the clues tucked between the lines of his address.
Kennedy is ticked at Sen. Clinton and her husband, Bill, for trying to marginalize Obama after his triumph in Iowa's caucuses, according to officials close to the senator. Like many other Democratic leaders, Kennedy worries that playing the race card will divide blacks, whites and Hispanics and cause irreparable harm to the Democratic coalition.
Kennedy's endorsement helps Obama on a number of fronts: It lends him a measure of the family's political aura; it provides cover to Democratic operatives who were afraid of bucking the Clintons; and it signals to Hispanic voters, who historically are reluctant to support black candidates, that Obama is a rightful heir to the support and adulation earned by the late Robert Kennedy during his 1968 presidential campaign.
But the endorsement also says something about how the Clintons are viewed by many institutional Democrats some of whom never cottoned to the couple from Arkansas, and only grudgingly accepted their dominance of the party since 1993.
Look at how Kennedy compared Obama to his brother, John F. Kennedy and, by inference, Bill Clinton to a curmudgeonly Harry Truman.
"There was another time, when another young candidate was running for president and challenging America to cross a New Frontier," Kennedy said. "He faced public criticism from the preceding Democratic president, who was widely respected in the party. Harry Truman said we needed 'someone with greater experience' and added: 'May I urge you to be patient." And John Kennedy replied: 'The world is changing. The old ways will not do ... It is time for a new generation of leadership.'"
Kennedy didn't have to remind the crowd that Bill Clinton said that Obama was asking voters to "roll the dice" and back him.
Or that Obama has replied that he has the right experience to respond to "the fierce urgency of now."
Line after line of the speech contained a coded criticism of the Clintons, or a defense of Obama.
He said Obama's campaign is "not just about himself," a dig at Bill Clinton, who talks as much about himself as his wife on the campaign trail.
He said Obama will "break the old gridlock and finally" provide universal health care, a jab at Sen. Clinton, who failed to reform health care when given the opportunity during her husband's first term.
He said Obama had the courage to oppose the war in Iraq from the start. "And let no one deny that truth," he added, knowing full well that the Clintons have questioned Obama's courage.
The irony is that Bill Clinton could have made a credible case that Obama's anti-war stance was not a risky move to take during a Democratic primary in Illinois. Instead, the former president smugly dismissed Obama's assertion as a "fairy tale," and some black leaders thought Clinton was dismissing a black man's chance of being president.
Kennedy pointedly said Obama would not be "trapped in the patterns of the past" and could fight for Democratic causes "without demonizing those who hold a different view." Could he be talking about Sen. Clinton, who falsely accuses Obama of not wanting to give all Americans health insurance?
Or perhaps he was referring to Bill Clinton, who acknowledged Obama's landslide victory in South Carolina by noting that another black man, Jesse Jackson, had won the state in the past so, big deal.
Or he might have had in mind the fact that that Clinton surrogates raised the issue of Obama's drug use as a youth and tried to label him a Muslim (Obama is Christian).
Maybe he had both Clintons in mind. The Democratic Party's most powerful couple twisted Obama's admiration of Ronald Reagan's political success sentiments they themselves have expressed into an endorsement of GOP ideas.
Kennedy certainly had the Clintons in mind when he said Obama would be "ready to be president one Day One."
Sen. Clinton likes to say that about herself.
Bill Clinton likes to say that about his wife.
They're a powerful, talented couple and odds are at least 50-50 that Sen. Clinton will win the nomination and extend the Clintons' grip on the Democratic Party. That is, unless the young lion Obama and old lion Kennedy have their way.
"I feel change in the air," Kennedy said.
He has now cast his lot with the promise of a new brand of politics, not knowing whether it will lead to victory much less any real change. ___