As President Obama continues to bask in the reflected glow of late Sen. Ted Kennedy's veneration, the serious run-in that Obama had with Kennedy – which nearly cost him his endorsement – has been widely overlooked.
The tiff first came to light in the Boston Globe's extensive biography, Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy.
It seems that in 2003 Obama, then a little-known Illinois state senator, uttered one of his infamous, off-the-cuff gaffes -- on camera.
Speaking to a gathering of AFL-CIO members, Obama said Democrats needed to "get some backbone" and reject the Medicare prescription-drug benefit bill that recently had been introduced. Not surprisingly, Obama thought the reforms the bill offered weren't drastic enough.
As told in Last Lion, Obama urged union members: "We've got to call up Ted Kennedy and say, 'Ted, you're getting a little old now, and you've been a fighter for us before. I don't know what's happening now. Get some spine and stand up to Republicans.'"
That an unknown Illinois rabble-rouser would dare to berate Kennedy on his signature issue of healthcare reform -- in front of a union meeting no less – apparently drove Kennedy to distraction.
So five years later, when Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin started lobbying Kennedy to endorse Obama over Hillary Clinton, Kennedy made him sit down and watch the video of Obama shooting from the lip.
Of greatest interest to historians, however, may be Durbin's account of Obama's reaction.
"I didn't say that," Obama insisted when Durbin told him why Kennedy was upset.
"Barack," Durbin replied, "it's on the video."
Desperately needing the mainstream acceptance a Kennedy endorsement would bring, Obama had no choice: He visited the Senate's liberal lion and personally apologized.
"It was a stupid thing to say," Obama told Kennedy, according to the Globe's account.
With that, the political pecking order was re-established. Obama went on to win Kennedy's endorsement – and the presidency.
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