In his private study at the White House, President Obama keeps a painting signed “Ted K” in the lower right corner.
“A Cape Cod seascape that was a gift to a freshman legislator who had just arrived in Washington and happened to admire it when Ted Kennedy welcomed him into his office,” Obama recalled during the eulogy he delivered at Sen. Edward Kennedy’s funeral.
On the back of the painting, Kennedy had made an inscription to the then freshman senator from Illinois. It included what had seemed to be Obama’s watchword.
“To Barack—I love your audacity.”
Kennedy had become only more admiring after the author of The Audacity of Hope was so audacious as to run for president. The endorsement by Kennedy and his niece, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, made Obama a real contender.
Had Kennedy not been so ill by the time of the election and he not finally succumbed so soon afterward, he surely would have offered the wisdom of Camelot’s sole survivor to this other handsome young president who took office speaking of hope and change. Kennedy no doubt would have counseled Obama that above all, he should not forget the watchword that got him to the White House in the first place.
Instead, Obama sometimes seemed to forget the word altogether as he grappled with the forces of nope. He too often appeared to be less than the person his admirers elected without becoming any more palatable to those who opposed him with such unreasoning vehemence.
Then, just over a year ago, Obama was faced with a fateful choice. Caution dictated that he wait until Osama bin Laden was sighted in the compound in Pakistan.
But that watchword came back to the president and he ordered the SEALs to go in, even at the risk of a humiliating disaster like the 1980 hostage-rescue attempt in Iran.
Obama’s political fortunes hung in the balance, but that must have seemed almost incidental compared to what the SEALs were risking as he monitored the raid from the White House situation room. Audacity won the day. And it seemed to come back to Obama at the start of this month, when he swooped into Afghanistan to announce the beginning of the end of our longest war.
Maybe he was still feeling the tingle of being a true leader when he decided this week to stop ducking the question of same-sex marriage as if his autobiography were titled The Evolving of Hope. He just came out and said what was written in his candidate’s questionnaire in the 1990s at no political risk: he is in favor of gay marriage.
He seemed like he might be the guy people voted for after all.
And Ted K. would have been proud.
Call it the hope of audacity.