Obama evokes Camelot themes
MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – Barack Obama deepened his connection to the Kennedy legacy Sunday as he stepped in for Sen. Edward Kennedy to deliver a commencement address at Wesleyan University.
Before an audience that included Kennedy’s wife and stepdaughter, a graduating senior at Wesleyan, Obama paid tribute to the Kennedy family and sounded a call to public service in the spirit of Camelot.
“At a time of war, we need you to work for peace,” Obama declared. “At a time of inequality, we need you to work for opportunity. At a time of so much cynicism and so much doubt, we need you to make us believe again. That’s your task, Class of 2008.”
The speech enveloped Obama in Kennedy imagery at a moment of dramatic transitions for both the Kennedy family and the Illinois senator’s presidential campaign.
Kennedy, who anointed Obama a worthy heir to his brothers John and Robert early in the presidential campaign, is newly diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor that inevitably raises the question of political succession.
With Kennedy unable to appear, he chose Obama as his substitute just as Obama appears on the verge of clinching the Democratic presidential nomination. So at a turning point in the campaign, the candidate’s bond with the Kennedys was again on the nation’s television screens.
Obama’s barrier-breaking candidacy and youthful, charismatic persona has frequently stirred parallels to the Kennedys. His promotion of national service has provided a thematic link as well, and at Wesleyan he promised to make it “a cause of my presidency.”
Obama wove into his summons to serve such other familiar subjects of his campaign as hope, faith and a sense of common purpose.
“Our individual salvation depends on collective salvation,” Obama said. “It’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you’ll play in writing the next great chapter in America’s story.”
Obama offered fulsome praise for the absent Kennedy.
“It is rare in this country of ours that a person exists who has touched the lives of nearly every single American without many of us even realizing it,” he said, adding, “And I have a feeling that Ted Kennedy is not done just yet.”
Obama’s address also made admiring references to other members of the Kennedy family, including mention of a famous Robert Kennedy quote on the power of hope.
“All it takes is one act of service – one blow against injustice – to send forth that tiny ripple of hope that Robert Kennedy spoke of,” Obama said.