February 3rd, 2008
11:00 AM ET
12 years ago

Across America with Bob Greene: "Echoes"

 Ted Kennedy is set to campaign with Obama Monday.

Ted Kennedy is set to campaign with Obama Monday.

ABOARD THE CNN ELECTION EXPRESS IN LOS ANGELES, California - On Monday, once the Super Bowl is history and the nation can focus its attention again, Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy are scheduled to appear at a rally together in Hartford, Connecticut.

I don't know exactly what will transpire. But I have a pretty good idea what won't.

Because I once traveled with Sen. Kennedy as he campaigned in support of another presidential candidate who had pledged to change the tone of American life and to end a war. The two of them flew around the country, standing side-by-side on platforms before screaming, adoring fans.

And the candidate could barely get a word in. The candidate was the anticlimax.

That's what won't happen Monday. And that's the measure - or at least a measure - of what the passage of time will inevitably do.

"When we beat Richard Nixon in November. . . .," Kennedy thundered in city after city. The words that followed could not be heard. The crowds, ecstatic, some people in tears, drowned him out, would not let him speak until they had called his name for long minutes.

And meanwhile, behind him on all of those stages, waiting to be introduced by Kennedy, was the Democratic candidate for president: George McGovern.

McGovern, during that 1972 campaign, suffered more indignities than he ever conceivably deserved - including being portrayed by his opponents as some sort of effete, soft wimp, a cut-and-run coward. It's the way of take-no-prisoners politics, I suppose - tarnish an opponent in any way you can. But George McGovern of South Dakota, during World War II, was an American bomber pilot who flew 35 combat missions over Europe, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross. Some wimp. Some coward.

That was the image he was forced to rebut, though, and when Kennedy traveled with him the crowds went into rapture for the opening act, and sat in respectful silence for the main event. McGovern saw it, and heard it, and belatedly realized he would have to address it. "I want to thank the senator for his eloquent introduction," McGovern would say in that reedy voice of his to the suddenly muted audiences. "The only thing I regret is that it's a hard act to follow."

That's what Barack Obama will not have to worry about on Monday in Hartford. Ted Kennedy in the autumn of 1972 was 40 years old, all coiled energy and pent-up promise. The people in the crowds - many of them - wished that he was the candidate. His older brother John had been dead for just short of nine years; his older brother Bobby had been dead for only four. The crowds yearned for Kennedy, not for the man who would follow him to the microphone.

Kennedy tried to be gracious; two or three stops into the tour, recognizing the awkwardness of the situation, he began to greet his standing ovations by quickly saying: "He'll be right out in a minute." Kennedy was pretending to believe that the cheers were in anticipation of McGovern. "Let's save it for our candidate," he would implore, to no avail.

He won't have to do that on Monday. Kennedy is 75; he is never going to be president, and no one in the audience will delude themselves into thinking there is a chance he might be. He really will be the opening act now, in every sense; as warm and enthusiastic and sustained as the reception for him will be, and as grateful as Obama must feel for his support, it is Obama who is young and the owner of all that coiled energy now, all that promise. He need not worry. The crowd will be his; he will be the reason they're present.

But some things don't change. On that long-ago trip with Kennedy and McGovern, I heard one woman calling to him, over and over:

"Save us! Save us, Mr. Kennedy!"

It was odd and touching at the same time. "Save us!" Full of belief that a political man can somehow do just that. "Save us!" The plea, if not the words themselves, is still with us 36 years later. But the person on the receiving end is not the opening act this time. Obama knows it, and so does the man, with the name so famous, who will introduce him to those who this year choose to love him.

(Bob Greene is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author)

Filed under: Bob Greene
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Mike, OR

    Ted Kennedy is a big fat gas-bag!

    February 3, 2008 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  2. This is Too Funny

    That was then, this is now. Only can predict but the country is willing to listen because they believe in Hope and that what you will hear in Connecticute on Monday because something is sturring in the air and status quo won't stop it.

    February 3, 2008 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  3. jp/michigan

    Mr. Kennedy with all do respect, for the Kennedy name, I hope you are not the one saying " Save me" when your endorsement of Mr. Obama ( with all his baggage) comes back to haunt you. Obama may have the rhetoric with in him but he is no JFK.

    February 3, 2008 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  4. Perry

    Obama slowly but surely attracting some of the Clintons voters. He had a slow start because his name wasnt as popular as the Clintons. But with more and more coverage of this race, people are realizing that Obama can win the genreal election and they are tire of the Clintons divisive politics. With the 16 percent of the undecided voters like my family in Cal. leans towards Obama direction that will really make things interesting. But of course if that happens the Clintons will turn up the dirty tricks again, And i know noone wants to see that again.

    February 3, 2008 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    and jp/michigan... please look up the Clinton "baggage" it will far outweigh any other candidate. and all the money they've taken from felons.

    do you research.

    February 3, 2008 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  6. H


    February 3, 2008 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  7. Richard Castro

    With Ted Kennedy and John Kerry are solidly behind Obama...the Dems and Republicans know is not a strategic advantage. Attracting those two is not good. The candidates should be smart enough to keep them in the audiance.

    February 3, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  8. Glen, Boston, MA

    Baggage? There are many legitimate critiques one can make about the validity of Mr. Obama to be our next president. Having baggage is not one of them. Quite the opposite, in fact, which is what makes people unsure of what exactly they're getting.

    February 3, 2008 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  9. Suzie Wilhelm

    I was undecided... but over the past few months.. the answer has become clearer than ever b4. GOOOOO Obama!! AMERICA 4 OBAMA!!!!

    February 3, 2008 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  10. Danny

    What a joke! You'd rather believe in this half body already in the grave old dude instead of hard a working and intelligent Hillary? Amerians are still afraid of and even hate intelligent women.

    February 3, 2008 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  11. Mary

    By fighting President Carter, Ted Kennedy gave us Ronald Reagan.

    Ted Kennedy was the chief advocate by such monumental losers as Dukakis, Tsongas, and John Kerry.

    Enough said!

    February 3, 2008 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  12. Sherry

    That picture gave me the image of two corrupt men laughing at how they got away with lying to all us American voters!!

    February 3, 2008 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  13. charlotte

    Ted Kennedy backs losers. Lots of talk and then nothing.

    February 3, 2008 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  14. NDBoSox

    Opposition to Hillary Clinton does not immediately mean that one is afraid or opposed to strong, intelligent women. It simply means that after careful survey of the two candidates, one decides that Sen. Obama is their choice.

    February 3, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  15. CHERYL

    ***************GO HILLARY********************************** YOU ARE LEADING!

    February 3, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  16. Dee Ward Mena, AR

    Obama says he want to get away from "Old Washington Insiders"...can you name me one Senator any more "Old Washington Insider" then Kennedy is. IF he is against "Old Washingotn Insiders" then he should have refused the endorsement by Kennedy. He isn't against "Old Washington Insiders", just the ones that support Senator Kennedy. Who pays attention to Kennedy anyway. By the way when they showed a speech by JFK this morning, I found out where you got the line "We are ready for a new generation." Just because you use his lines, Obama, doesn't make you a JFK.....

    February 3, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  17. eg

    by fighting Hillary Ted Kennedy will give you President McCann.

    February 3, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  18. Brandy, NJ

    You all do realize that T. Kennedy is not endorsing Obama but rather just punching Hill in the nose.

    Frankly, if I was Obama, I would not want T. Kennedy endorsing or stumping for me. He is such a pig; drug his feet on every single piece of legislation pertaining to women and children.

    I'm also very sad that the Kennedys have decided to support candidates so publicly. That the Kennedy family has decided to split themselves and openly supporting ... makes me wonder what they are really up to.

    Shame on them for dragging JFK's name through the mud.

    February 3, 2008 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  19. Michiel

    I remember Jack Kennedy and Mr Obama, you are NO Jack Kennedy!

    February 3, 2008 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  20. please, do not delete my opinions

    "America thanks you Ted Kennedy, Carolline Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy. Your endorsement and heartfelt words of what change really means is overwhelming."

    well, not all America! There is other part of America thanking the other part of Kennedy family supporting Hillary!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 3, 2008 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  21. Nikki

    Jack Kennedy? Its John F. Kennedy! And you all are going to have to get your head out of the clouds and start seeing america for what it is and where it is. If we continue at the pace were going at the same pace in the same old clinton way things were going when bill clinton was in the white house, the same way George Bush is running his white house now, nothing will get done. HILLARY CLINTON IS A BULLY!! that no one will want to listen to! not because she is a women but because she is a liar and a cheat. Honestly I have swayed back and forth about who I was going to vote for but I just can't bring myself to vote for someone who is like Hillary Clinton. Plus I am a FUTURE minded person who rarely looks at the past! THE PAST WILL NEVER DICTATE MY FUTURE! and I choose my own destiny and Barack Obama is destined to be the president one day, and I think that he should be the president now instead of later!!!

    February 4, 2008 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  22. WMW

    Could the anti-Christ be on this picture?

    February 4, 2008 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  23. Abuchi

    Go Obama!.

    Clinton seeked for this endorsement, but the BEST candidate got it Barack Obama.

    This shows you how divided we are in this country, imagine Hillary supporters calling the Kennedys all sort of names for supporting and endorsing Obama.

    This race would have been over if the Clintons got Kennedy's endorsement.

    This is how dirty is has become in the America we live in, and that is why Obama is running, "To re-unite us" as ONE America and color & gender blind.

    __________Vote Obama 2008___________________

    February 4, 2008 10:38 am at 10:38 am |