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Obama, called the last Kennedy brother, to eulogize Ted at Saturday funeral

August 27, 2009 |  8:23 am

Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, presidential daughter Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy endorse Barack Obama in 2008

MSNBC's Chris Matthews is taking a hammering from the right for suggesting that President Obama is now the last Kennedy brother. He said on NBC's "Today" show, "Ted Kennedy, last year, basically designated him the new brother and I don’t mean that in an ethnic sense or a black sense. I mean a brother of the Kennedy tradition."

Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh quipped that the mainstream news media would have his head if he used the word "brother" when referring to Obama.

Last year Kennedy -- joined in the photo above by his son, Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, and his niece, presidential daughter Caroline Kennedy -- passed the mantle of Camelot to Obama by endorsing his candidacy.

Now, the Kennedy family has asked Obama to give the eulogy at the senator's funeral Saturday, according to White House aides, an opportunity for the president to cement both his legacy and theirs.

Consider the history.

President Kennedy, felled by an assassin’s bullet at age 46, was remembered at the Democratic convention the following year by one of his brothers. Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy quoted Shakespeare in "Romeo and Juliet": "When he shall die take him and cut him out into stars and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun."

The line softened Bobby, until then seen as a tough power player.

When Bobby Kennedy, by then senator from New York and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was cut down by an assassin at age 42, his brother, Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, offered the eulogy:

My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. . . . As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not."

The line gave Ted Kennedy more stature.

Now, with Kennedy’s death of brain cancer at age 77, the last brother of the storied political family has left the stage.

What will Obama, at age 48, do with the opening?

NBC's "TODAY" show: Chris Matthews on Sen. Kennedy’s life

Already he has lionized Kennedy as “a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States senator of our time.”

Aides say Obama is working on the speech personally during his family vacation in Martha's Vineyard. If history is any guide, Saturday the president could influence his own legacy.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo credit: Getty Images

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