Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, struggling with terminal brain cancer, arrived on Monday night at the Democratic National Convention in a triumphant appearance that provided an emotional start for the event as the party turned to a new era and gathered to nominate Sen. Barack Obama for president.
Kennedy arrived at the convention center here shortly before dusk, accompanied by a flock of family members. He walked few halting steps to a waiting golf cart, which drove him into the Pepsi Center here, where Democrats are gathering this week.
Kennedy walked out with his wife, Vicki, who kissed him and left him at the lectern. The crowd, many of them wiping tears from their eyes, would not stop cheering until he settled them down
“My fellow Democrats, my fellow Americans, it is so wonderful to be here,” Kennedy said. “And nothing is going to keep me away from this special gathering tonight.”
“I have come here tonight,” he continued, “to stand with you to change America to restore its future, to rise to our best ideals and to elect Barack Obama president of the United States.”
Every sentence was greeted by loud applause. And while Kennedy spoke slowly, he was firm and energetic, gesturing with a hand and sounding very much like the man who enraptured the party’s convention 28 years ago.
In a moment that captured the generational arc of the night — and the Kennedy family’s connection to Obama, whom Kennedy endorsed in a turning-point of his campaign — a video tribute to the Massachusetts senator was introduced by Caroline Kennedy, his niece and the daughter of President John F. Kennedy. Her tribute was as much to her uncle as to the man who brought her into national politics.
“I have never had someone inspire me the way people tell me my father inspired them, but I do now — Barack Obama,” Caroline Kennedy said. “And I know someone else who’s been inspired all over again by Sen. Obama. In our family, he’s known as Uncle Teddy. More than any senator of his generation, or perhaps any generation, Teddy has made life better for people in this country and around the world.”
“For 46 years, he has been so much more than just a senator for the people of Massachusetts: He’s been a senator for all who believe in a dream that’s never died,” she said, invoking her uncle’s speech to the 1980 Democratic convention.
The Democrats’ 2008 convention was gaveled to order with a stream of opening speakers — including a heavy representation of women and Hispanics — who began laying the foundation for the tasks that Obama and his advisers hope to accomplish during the four-day event. And throughout the day, aides to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama worked to ease tensions over the Clintons’ roles at the convention in what was amounting to a strained passing of the generational torch.
In a speech to the New York delegation earlier in the day, Clinton strongly urged her supporters to vote for Obama at the convention. And Obama, campaigning in Davenport, Iowa, said he had spoken to former President Bill Clinton at length earlier in the week and made clear that he welcomed Bill Clinton’s role at the convention, and that he was welcome to talk about any topic he wished on Wednesday night.