Whether or not you agreed with their politics, either as individuals or collectively, the fact remains that that generation of the Kennedys of Massachusetts which produced Jack, Bobby and Ted was a major player in American Politics for nearly five decades- half a century!- beginning with John Fitzgerald Kennedy's formal announcement that he was seeking the 1960 Democratic Party presidential nomination on the first Saturday of that year (in the same Senate Caucus Room where, on another Saturday 8 years and 2 months later, his brother Bobby would also formally announce for another election's Democratic presidential nomination) up until the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy a week ago as I now type this. Even during those times when it was not at all predominant within the corridors of National Power as a whole, the Kennedy version of the Democratic Party's basic principles was ever lurking within what, in a Parliamentary Democracy, would be referred to as "the loyal Opposition".
This piece is probably best taken- dear readers- as being, more or less, the third in what has become (however inadvertently, since I certainly could not have originally planned it this way!) a "trilogy" about that very political legacy: the first portion of which would be my recent remembrances of the Assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and things related thereto and the second part of which would be my (also, but not as, recent) remembrances of events related to the battle for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination leading, sadly, to the Assassination of Senator Bobby Kennedy/ The disclaimers in each of those earlier pieces of mine as to the fallacy of human memory in general- not also to say my own memory in particular!- hold for this one as well. This commentary, then, naturally follows on to both of the aforementioned pieces of mine- themselves written on each of the appropriate anniversaries last year- because, with the passing of Bobby on Thursday 6 June 1968, the mantle of that Kennedy generation passed on to the last remaining brother: Ted.
How well I can still recall what happened back on Wednesday 21 August 1968, for on that day Senator Edward Moore Kennedy- Democrat of Massachusetts- formally stepped out from within the shadows of his two slain brothers. No, it was not the most important news of the day overall (the Soviets- along with a handful of their Warsaw Pact minions- had invaded Czechoslovakia the day before in order to crush a reformist, albeit still Communist, regime led by Alexander Dubcek; the headlines of most of the next day's morning papers across the USA would fairly scream about Dubcek himself having been taken into custody by the invaders) but it was the biggest news in ye olde Commonwealth in New England!
I happened to have been spending that very week visiting my Mom's (and maternal grandmother's) relatives in Fitchburg, Mass. (where both my mother and her mother [the only one of my grandparents born on the North American continent, by the way] had been born) and its surrounding towns (I would spend most of the week at my great-uncle's dairy farm in nearby Lunenburg but I would also spend one night apiece at the homes of two of my grandmother's sisters: one in Fitchburg, the other in Leominster) and I can so well recall sitting in the living room of the home of one of my great-aunts (the one in Leominster and she even had a color TV [at a time when my own family back in New Jersey still had a black-and-white set] to boot!) as all the Boston-based TV stations switched from regular programming to a "live" feed of Senator Ted Kennedy speaking before a gathering of local businessmen in Worcester, not all that far to the south of where nearly 12 1/2 year old me happened to be watching this at the time.
There is no safety in hiding, the last of the Kennedy brothers of that generation now told his audience (whether physically present or participating vicariously through television), not for me- not for our children who inherit the world we make for them... So today I resume my public responsibilities to the people of Massachusetts; like my three brothers before me, I pick up a fallen standard. Sustained by the memory of our priceless years together, I shall try to carry forward that special commitment to justice, to excellence, to the courage that distinguished their lives.
Thus, came Ted Kennedy out of a 2 1/2 month-long seclusion (except for a brief televised message of thanks from the family compound on Cape Cod, with his mother and wheelchair-bound father [who had suffered a stroke several years before] by his side, about a week after Bobby Kennedy's funeral and burial, Ted's last public utterances had been his own eulogy- back on 8 June- of the second of his brothers to be slain). As a result, the front page of the Record-American, a tabloid out of Boston, delivered to my great-aunt's home next morning was not at all about the agonies of Czechoslovakia but, rather, all about a Kennedy's return to the political fray... a political fray all too fast becoming a fracas, however, as the following week would see me witness (again, via TV-- but, this time, while back at home in Jersey) that tumultuous- where not also tempestuous, and most raucous, not to also mention divisive- Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
In his 21 August "comeback" appearance in Worcester, Ted Kennedy had declaimed that [f]or all of us, the only path is to work in whatever way we can to end the violence and end the hatred and the division that threaten us all-- but, a week thereafter, his own words would ring rather hollow. "The whole world is watching!", those battling with Chicago's police in that city's parks and streets during the Convention would chant... well, America was certainly watching!
"And now it's on to Chicago and let's win there!" had been Bobby Kennedy's last public words just before being shot and, thereby, disappearing into the mists of History... most assuredly, however, it was the Kennedys' own Democratic Party which lost right then and there- well before the ensuing General Election- and, thus, well paved the way for one Richard Nixon to so complete his own political comeback once the votes would be counted come November.
Yet, despite the election of President Nixon in 1968, the Kennedy legacy- as now embodied by Senator Ted Kennedy- seemed, nonetheless, to be on the rise: on 3 January 1969- 9 years and a day after his late brother Jack had first formally announced his candidacy for the Presidency- Ted Kennedy was elected Senate Majority Whip, defeating Senator Russell Long of Louisiana- the incumbent Whip and the son of firebrand Governor and Senator Huey Long (himself cut down by an assassin back in 1935)- by a vote of 31-26 in the Senate Democratic Caucus.
Seen, at first, as- at least in part- a Party honor given more in memory of the late Senator Bobby Kennedy, with whom most of those voting in that Caucus had served, the elevation of Ted Kennedy- not quite 37 years old at the time- into the Senate leadership was also symptomatic of a serious split within the Democratic Party of that 91st Congress of the United States between Party liberals and the more conservative "regulars" in both houses of Congress (this split also directly affected the Massachusetts Democratic Party, for House Speaker John McCormack [first and foremost a Congressman from ye olde Commonwealth], on that same day, held on to his post against a similar "coup attempt" by the liberal wing in the other chamber by allying himself with the "regulars", the very wing which had tended to vote against Massachusetts' own Ted Kennedy in the Senate), a split that would allow Richard Nixon- throughout his time in the Presidency- to claim what he himself would come to call an "working ideological majority" in both houses of Congress, despite Nixon's Republicans formally being the minority in each chamber throughout Nixon's time in that High Office (this same "working ideological majority" was also, clearly, that "strong enough political base" to which President Nixon would refer- in his last address to the Nation as President the evening of 8 August 1974- as having been lost by him in the wake of 'Watergate', this- in Nixon's own mind- being that which principally forced him to resign from the Presidency the following day).
Nevertheless, and despite such rancor between Congressional (and other) Democrats seemingly continuing those deep divisions within his Party that had been so publicly on display in Chicago the previous summer, Ted Kennedy was now well riding a still-cresting political wave during the first half of 1969 and there was many a sign and portent that a second Kennedy vs. Nixon (different Kennedy, same Nixon) presidential election could well be in the offing come November 1972...
instead, and much sooner, came that which would be known- forever- as, simply, 'Chappaquiddick'!
It was mid-July 1969: human beings were, for the very first time, heading for an actual landing on the surface of the Moon (like millions of my fellow Americans, along with millions and millions more elsewhere around the Globe, 13 year old me- a devotee of the American Space Program going back to my earlier days on Staten Island- had watched the launch of Apollo 11's Saturn V booster rocket on Wednesday morning the 16th at, as Mission Control had, at the time, intoned, "32 minutes past the hour" [of 9 o'clock Eastern Daylight Time]).
However, during the day on Saturday 19 July 1969- the day before the historic lunar landing itself, the news broke that Senator Ted Kennedy had survived a car accident in which he had received what was reported to be "a slight concussion in the back of the head" (I myself would later suffer a concussion- that very Fall of 1969, in fact- when I fell off my bicycle as it ran over a tree root pushing up a slab of sidewalk upon which I then landed, and I can tell you- from my own experience- that there is no such thing as a "slight concussion in the back of the head"!) but in which a woman passenger had herself drowned because the Senator's car had driven off a narrow wooden-plank bridge across the upper portion of Poucha Pond (aka "the Lagoon"), a tidal estuary off of Cape Poge Bay separating the main portion of Chappaquiddick Island- located just off of Martha's Vineyard to the larger island's east- from its own barrier beaches.
The female victim, whose name would evermore be linked to that of the Senator, was one Mary Jo Kopechne- a former staffer for the late Senator Bobby Kennedy. Ms. Kopechne's passing was to be big news in my own home State of New Jersey- not just because of the high profile of the Massachusetts Democrat with whom she had been riding, but because she was from a part of the Garden State not all that far from where I happened to be living (Ms. Kopechne's Berkeley Heights was so close, in fact, that- only a few weekends earlier- I had been riding that very same bicycle from which I would fall later in the year through her hometown!)
I, however, happened to be staying at my maternal grandparents' in Connecticut- still living in the same house in which I myself had spent part of my earlier childhood- that weekend (in fact, I would watch Neil Armstrong's "small step for a man... giant leap for Mankind" with my grandfather on the television in his cellar) and, thus, the immediate focus of the news about 'Chappaquiddick' up there (again, in the Nutmeg State) was to be the immediate political ramifications for the Senate Democratic Whip- not just nationally (as regarded his potential as a future presidential candidate), but also within his native Commonwealth (as in: might he have to now give up his Senate seat?: for what was happening, politically, in neighboring Massachusetts was very often of interest to Connecticut voters of the 1960s becoming 1970s, especially if it involved a Kennedy and these voters happened also to be Democrats!).
Yes, indeed, there was quite a bit of what can only be described as abject- where not also altogether unseemly- titillation (in New England, for sure, but also all around the Nation) surrounding the question as to just why Senator Kennedy and Ms. Kopechne might have been on the eastern, Nantucket Sound-facing, side of the island in the wee hours of a Saturday morning when, supposedly, he was so earnestly (as his own account of the tragedy implied) trying to get her back to Martha's Vineyard proper- a ferry ride across the narrow strait of Edgartown Harbor to the west- after a gathering (one that was supposed to be, at least in part, commemorative of that same Bobby Kennedy who had passed on but a little over a year earlier) at which, or so no one who heard all this seems to have doubted, there had been no little supply of beverages replete with alcoholic content (this was still the "swingin' Sixties" [in some cases, literally!], after all, and booze- where not also illegal drugs- and, perhaps, even accompanying [where not also illicit] sex were, by 1969, already so prevalent in the popular culture ['Woodstock' was less than a month in the future as two American astronauts cavorted- in the more innocent definition of the word- about on the Moon] that Senator Ted Kennedy's moral and ethical values about same, as a result, now came under closest scrutiny): even those tending to be firmly opposed to whatever behaviors might have then popped into their own heads ("... while swinging on the chandeliers" and such) could not help but wonder about such things in relation to 'Chappaquiddick' nonetheless (indeed, perhaps those so opposed were the more inclined to consider such possibilities even more so than others in any event!)...
but none of this can- nor should- at all minimize the real issues at hand: a young woman had died in a car Senator Ted Kennedy had been driving and, in the aftermath of the event, the Senator had returned, somehow, to Martha's Vineyard without reporting the accident to authorities in Edgartown for several hours: at best, Ted Kennedy had- or so it seemed to the average observer "out there"- considered the potential adverse effects on his own political future ahead of exhibiting that very "courage that distinguished" his slain brothers' lives of which he had spoken in Worcester as he had so marked his return from seclusion less than a year before. As things would turn out, his failure to immediately- to use an old Metro New York/Tri-State region expression- "stand up and be a mensch" that terrible night would do nothing but adversely affect any higher political aspirations he might then, or later, have had.
Ms. Kopechne was buried in Plymouth, Pennsylvania three days after the accident, while the Apollo 11 astronauts were still ballistically "return[ing] safely to the Earth" (as the late President John F. Kennedy had promised such intrepid explorers would in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress some eight years before); Senator Kennedy- accompanied by his wife Joan and Bobby Kennedy's widow, Ethel- attended the funeral mass. All now conspired to drive many to, thereafter, scream "cover-up": why was Senator Kennedy seen wearing a neck brace at Ms. Kopechne's funeral when he had suffered a concussion?; and why was he allowed, three days later, to plead guilty- before a judge in the Commonwealth's Dukes County- to merely leaving the scene of an accident (for which he had received a suspended sentence of two months in jail, the minimum)?
The judge who sentenced the Senator declared- from the bench- that Kennedy had "already been and would continue to be punished far beyond anything this court can impose" but, to all too many Americans, it smacked much too much of what, to them, was an all-too-typical American story: "rich guy gets off relatively unscathed" and "the Law is different for the wealthy and/or powerful" (as one who, at that time, was still growing up in an at least partially upscale New Jersey suburb of New York City, I myself would- soon enough- come to witness more than a fair number of instances of this very story playing itself out at intervals).
For his part, Senator Kennedy- on the very evening of the day he had so pleaded guilty (this being Friday 25 July 1969)- went on television to plead again: this time, his case for not having to resign his Senate seat as a result of what had transpired nearly a week before. He urged his Massachusetts constituents to think this through with me; in the end, they supported him in droves with phone calls and telegrams to local newspapers and radio and television stations (one, nowadays, cannot help but wonder what the still-to-come existence of the Internet might have added to all of this, had it been available at the time). Thus, Ted Kennedy survived- not just the accident itself (along with the messy speculations related thereto), but (and this was more important to his story in the long run) politically as well... however, at something of a cost:
for, despite his protestations- in that national telecast (and think on this, dear reader: despite his explanations for his conduct being directed at those who had actually voted him into office- the people of Massachusetts- this was being broadcast nationally!: I myself well remember watching it at home in New Jersey [I had returned from my visit to Connecticut by the weekend following both 'Chappaquiddick' and the Moon landing])- that [t]here has never been a private relationship between [the Senator and Ms. Kopechne] of any kind and that he was not, in fact, driving under the influence of liquor, there were far too many- even amongst those who so strongly urged him to stay on- who simply did not at all believe him. Likewise, his claims that, in the immediate wake of the accident, he had actually felt the sensation of drowning and his (however belatedly) taking responsibility for what had happened, describing his failure to immediately contact authorities upon his return to Edgartown indefensible, there were many- again, even among those urging him not to leave the Senate- who had little, if any, sympathy for his plight.
1970 found Ted Kennedy facing re-election to a second full six-year term in the United States Senate (he had first been elected to that body in a Special Election to fill the vacancy caused by his brother John- in 1962, still the President of the United States- having left it almost two years earlier to become President [Ben Smith, who had been appointed by the Governor in early 1961 to temporarily fill the vacancy pending this Special Election, would forever after be known as "the Seat Warmer"] and then was elected to his first full term in 1964).
My family spent the two weeks leading into Labor Day weekend that year on Megunticook Lake in Maine: the Massachusetts Primaries were coming up on the Tuesday of the week following Labor Day 1970-- thus, in between my Dad's simply having to listen to his Boston Red Sox as often as he could that late summer, one could easily pull in WBZ out of Boston on the little cylindrical Sony transistor radio we had brought up there with us and- in between ads for, say, season tickets to see the Boston Patriots (in their very last year under that sobriquet: they would be playing their 1970 home schedule in Harvard Stadium- a place where Ted Kennedy himself once played football- and, afterwards, move on to suburban Foxborough, Mass. as the New England Patriots)- there would be, as I can so clearly recall, these seemingly incessant campaign ads for one Josiah "Si" Spaulding- who would emerge as the victorious candidate in the Republican Senate Primary- and, thereby, take on Senator Kennedy (who, despite 'Chappaquiddick' and all it politically portended, ran unopposed on the Democratic side).
Come the November elections in 1970, however, "Si" Spaulding was to do little better than those Patriots then being led by quarterback "Injun Joe" Kapp: the 'Pats' were halfway through the season by Election Day, having gone 1-6 through the first half [they would have the exact same record during the remainder of the season, by the way]; meanwhile, Ted Kennedy comfortably defeated Spaulding in the General Election. Having, thus, survived the slings and arrows of Massachusetts politics, however, Kennedy would not fare as well on the national stage: the 92nd Congress of the United States, although its term officially began on the following 3 January, did not formally convene until Thursday 21 January 1971 (largely because the final session of the preceding Congress did not end until almost the very end of its own term) and this extra time seemingly gave Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia an opening to stage something of a "counter-coup", reversing what had taken place but two years before-- thus was Ted Kennedy unseated as Senate Majority Whip by a vote of 31-24 (virtually a reversal of the 1969 vote) in the Democratic Senate Caucus that day...
never again would Ted Kennedy be part of the formal Senate leadership made up of President pro Tempore (that is, whenever the Democrats controlled the Senate), Leader and Whip...
and there is little doubt that 'Chappaquiddick' had much to do with this.
(Meanwhile, Senator Byrd would go on to serve six years as Democratic Senate Whip, followed by twelve more years as Democratic Senate Leader [although six of these years would be in the Minority role], only giving up the Leadership when his own seniority in the Senate forced him into the on-again, off-again [depending on which Party controlled the Senate] position as Senate President pro Tem, the position he currently holds as I type this. One can only wonder if Ted Kennedy, even if he never ever sought the Presidency, might have been Senate Majority Leader during the Carter Administration had he not lost the Whip position in 1971-- might 1980, then, have been much different for Ted Kennedy?... and this, too, in various possible ways!)
Thus chastened, Senator Kennedy now began a decade-long journey towards what would, in the end, become his own legacy: that of a most effective United States Senator- partisan to the max, yes, in support of his Democratic Party (in general) and (in particular) liberal causes, but also quite able to cross the partisan (and, where necessary within his own Party, the ideological) divide in order to get things done.
It was not all to be that proverbial "bowl of cherries", of course. Personal difficulties (a son losing a leg to cancer; his wife Joan's- and, later, his own- struggles with "demon alcohol" [though Joan Kennedy's battles with alcoholism were to be more public- where not also more redemptive- than the Senator's own, which only tended to become more the stuff of so-called "tabloid journalism"]; his eventual divorce from Joan) aside, there were a significant number of even political "hiccup"s along the way.
For instance, I can well recall Monday 9 September 1974:
I had only first arrived on the campus of Boston University for my freshman year on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend that year (thus ensconced in my first dormitory, by the way, I would, soon thereafter, first meet Tony Roza- the Webmaster of this very website- who was a year ahead of me at B.U.) and Labor Day 1974 happened to be the Monday immediately preceding the 9th. An anti-busing protest rally was being held in front of Boston's City Hall in Government Center that day, three days before Boston's high schools were scheduled to open under a new court-ordered busing plan (forced busing of public school students, as a means of desegregation combined with equalizing the academic level of schools in Boston neighborhoods with differing racial and ethnic demographics, had been so ordered for the academic year 1974-75 by the Federal District Court in Massachusetts; Boston's situation, however, was exacerbated by long-practiced political patronage within the city's School Committee, patronage which determined just which school districts got the newest textbooks, audio-visual equipment, etc.: thus, the battle was not only along racial/ethnic lines, it also had very much to do with political divisions- liberal vs. conservative- within what was otherwise a staunchly Democratic Party loyalist Hub of New England-- people who strongly felt that their kids were "losing" what had previously been theirs seemingly "as of right" were, accordingly, very angry about busing [one is, indeed, left to wonder if Ted Kennedy's own words at the Democratic National Convention a full three decades later- where he opined that They believe they can't win unless the rest of us lose. We reject that shameful view (even though he was here talking about George W. Bush and the Republicans)- might well have reflected his own memory of how some within his own Party (many of whom would come to support at least national Republicans in the decades thereafter) reacted that September day]; but, while this anger was very much about Race, it wasn't all about Race!).
Senator Kennedy himself had shown up to speak at this rally in order to urge calm but, instead, something rather unusual- back then- for the Massachusetts Ted Kennedy served in the Senate ensued: he was actually chased from the podium! Insulted, spat upon, even pelted with vegetables, the Senator quickly found himself seeking refuge in a Federal office building nearby where, before all was over, a plate-glass window would be shattered. That this did not become even more of a national story was because most anger outside of Boston was directed elsewhere: for, on Sunday 8 September (the very day before Senator Kennedy's being so confronted by angry mothers of high school students on the City Hall plaza), newly-minted President Gerald Ford had issued an unconditional pardon of former President Richard Nixon (Nixon had only resigned a month earlier and the political emotions generated by 'Watergate' were still as raw as those engendered by forced busing of school students).
That Ted Kennedy would be so jeered by anti-busing protestors mostly from those same Irish-American neighborhoods in which the very name 'Kennedy' was, nonetheless, still so revered was rather jolting to those of us watching the footage of all that had happened on the local Beantown news that same evening; but, by 1974, the Senator had already positioned himself as the leading spokesperson for American political liberalism- including Civil Rights which, in turn, included forced busing as both redress and remedy for apparent long-standing racial wrongs. [And, as it happened, things would get worse before they got any better: the following month, October 1974, would see a major outbreak of sporadic interracial violence forcing then-Boston Mayor Kevin White to request the assistance of both the Massachusetts State Police and United States Marshals in maintaining order in many parts of the city; and who can possibly forget the image, in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, of a young white anti-busing protestor attacking a black man with the tip of a flagpole itself holding a large American flag (this particular event occurring as late as April 1976!) on that very same Boston City Hall plaza from where Senator Kennedy had himself been hounded away by an angry mob?])
But there would be no political "hiccup" as big and as loud as Ted Kennedy's altogether quixotic quest for the 1980 Democratic Party presidential nomination!
In order to even try and begin to answer the core question of 'what made Teddy run?' as regards 1980, one cannot at all avoid the concomitant issues of what might have kept the Senator from seeking the Presidency earlier, in either 1972 or 1976- the campaign period of each of which saw a Republican incumbent in the White House. Doubtless, 1972 was still too close in time to 'Chappaquiddick' while Kennedy's loss of the Senate Majority Whip position, not all that long before those who wished to seek the Party's presidential nomination would have to announce their intentions [during the year 1971], still tended to show him in something of a bad political light (although, as we now know from the Nixon White House tapes, President Nixon himself was somewhat obsessed with the possibility of Ted Kennedy, nevertheless, becoming his opponent in '72: "Let's just say Kennedy was behind this" [whenever something that might make the Democrats look bad was in the news] became something of a mantra for a time among Nixon as well as his closest advisers; it might even be fairly suggested that this very thing is what eventually led to the actual burglary/attempted bugging of the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate in mid-1972 which would end up giving the name 'Watergate' to anything associated with this mentality).
In addition, although 'Teddy' had been looked upon as something of a "lightweight" when he first came to the Senate (after all, wasn't he merely in the Senate to keep the seat warm for when JFK would be forced, by the 22d Amendment, to retire from the White House after 8 years? [At the time Ted was first running for the Senate in 1962, it was thought- and is still considered, by many historians, now nearly a half-century later- a real likelihood that JFK might well have run for the Senate again in 1968, while a second term of his in the Presidency would have been coming to an end: Dallas, of course, took care of that possibility!]), a decade later it could no longer well be doubted that Ted had the savvy to know just which side of his political "bread" might actually be buttered at any given time: indeed, Senator Edward Kennedy never seemed to allow his strong commitment to political liberalism to, at the same time, blind him to either the existence or the efficacy of what Nixon had called "the silent majority" the way some of his liberal colleagues did! Thus, Ted might have simply concluded 1972 would be Nixon's year and, even if it wasn't, he was not then in a position, politically, to be the head of the National Ticket taking Nixon on.
Ted Kennedy's name was still magical enough within the Democratic Party in 1972, however, to have Senator George McGovern of South Dakota (who had begun his own rise to national prominence by becoming the de facto leader of most of Bobby Kennedy's delegates at the Party's '68 Convention in Chicago after Bobby's death, then went on to chair at least the start the process of reform of the Party's presidential nominating process authorized by that same Convention before announcing his own [ultimately successful] candidacy for that Party's '72 presidential nomination) come around and ask Kennedy to replace Senator Thomas Eagleton as the Party's vice-presidential candidate on that National Ticket after Eagleton had withdrawn his name in the wake of post-Convention revelations about his having been treated, in hospital, several times for nervous disorders: Kennedy demurred- although his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, would become the replacement for Eagleton (though only after the 1968 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine [who had contended for the '72 presidential nomination and, of course, lost out to McGovern], had most seriously considered being the replacement vice-presidential nominee before saying 'no').
Ted Kennedy's reluctance to seek the Presidency in 1976- at least from a political standpoint- is the more difficult to most fully fathom: after all, the Democrats were, by then, riding the crest of a post-'Watergate' anti-GOP wave and it often seemed hard to believe that it might prove all that difficult for a Democrat to be elected into the White House over the unelected incumbent Republican President, Gerald Ford (Ford was, as things turned out, going to have his hands full with what proved to be an unsuccessful- yet still very strong- challenge for the '76 GOP nomination from the more conservative- and future President- Ronald Reagan). Was it, simply, that he had decided not to risk his ability to run for a third full term in the Senate that year (knowing that his Senate seat was the very basis of any political leverage he might still have) or was it, as some suggested, mere fear of possible assassination? As regards this last, it is interesting to note that not until 1980- when Ted Kennedy did finally run for President- was he, by then, already older than either of his slain brothers had lived to be.
At any rate, it was not to be until 1980 that Senator Kennedy finally took the plunge and became the third of that generation of Kennedy brothers to formally seek the Presidency of the United States of America. In some ways, his campaign would be similar to that of his two brothers, especially Bobby: for, just like Bobby, Ted was taking on an incumbent of his own Party in the White House (one easily forgets that, when Bobby Kennedy announced his candidacy in mid-March 1968, President Lyndon Baines Johnson had not yet formally announced he was not running)-- this time round, Ted was taking on President Jimmy Carter and, again like Bobby, the timing of his formal announcement- Wednesday 7 November 1979- seemed most fortuitous for, only three days earlier, radicalized Iranian students had invaded the United States Embassy in Tehran and taken hostages (Bobby's announcement, meanwhile, had come three days after it became apparent, once the votes were fully counted, that challenger Gene McCarthy had done much too well against incumbent LBJ in the '68 New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Primary])...
but there were some key differences: first of all, Ted Kennedy made his announcement in Boston's Faneuil Hall, not in the Senate Caucus Room where his two brothers had each made their announcements; while, in part, this had much to do with the increasing need to provide room for a growing number of television cameras and the "techies" that came with them, it also was highly symbolic that a man well ensconced, by then, in Senate seniority (who, after all, had- by this point- served in the Senate longer than both of his brothers combined) was, instead, beginning his quest for the White House "out here" as a man of the People instead of from within the rather cloistered atmosphere of one of the Senate office buildings in Washington.
Yet another, somewhat darker, difference between what Ted was doing and what his brother Bobby had done was soon to emerge: Bobby had pointedly said, at his announcement of candidacy, that he was not "run[ning] for the Presidency to oppose any man but to propose new policies"... not so for Ted, however: in this Kennedy's quest for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, let alone the White House itself, it would all get all too personal! One fairly wonders if, had Ted Kennedy actually seized the Party's nomination from Jimmy Carter, he would then still have had enough fight in him to well take on Ronald Reagan, the 1980 Republican standard-bearer; was Ted Kennedy's run for the Presidency about that Office or was it, instead, mostly about the Party itself?
It is altogether possible that Ted's political antennae told him that, with a shift to the political right within the American electorate looming (something that could already, by November 1979, clearly be discerned in the rise of the so-called 'New Right' in the 1978 Midterm Elections [future House Speaker Newt Gingrich was first elected to Congress in those Midterms (and- as I've often said- you can't even spell 'New Right' without some of the letters in "Newt Gingrich"!)]), political liberalism very much needed defending, lest it disappear altogether should Democrats suffer handily within the then-newly emerging American political reality: simply,Ted Kennedy might well have decided to become the champion of liberalism itself, even were he to fail to slay the conservative "dragons" both within and outside his own Party in 1980.
It certainly didn't start out all that well, though: despite the initial burst of enthusiasm following his announcement at Faneuil Hall, the fact remained that- three days before, on the very day that those Iranian students first stormed the U.S. Embassy (this being Sunday 4 November 1979)- an earlier interview of Senator Kennedy by CBS television correspondent Roger Mudd at the Kennedy family compound on Cape Cod had been broadcast: the interview was almost an hour long, to be sure, but it included a moment that would come to well haunt Kennedy's presidential campaign, at least for a time. The Senator was simply asked, by Mudd, why he wanted to be President and Kennedy seemed utterly unprepared to answer such a simple question-- he flubbed and fluttered and stammered: Well, I-- um-- were I to make the announcement to run, the reason I would run is because I have a great belief in this country, after which he dissembled into platitudes about, for example, the greatness of the Nation's natural resources, problems with the economy and energy, etc.
But the worst was how this rather rambling answer to a pretty basic question ended: Kennedy finished up by saying I would basically feel that it's imperative for this country to move forward, that it can't stand still, or otherwise it moves back. It was phraseology more worthy of then-California Governor Jerry Brown (who, ironically, would announce his own candidacy for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination the day after Kennedy's own formal announcement), who gained the unflattering sobriquet 'Governor Moonbeam' for just such pseudo-philosophizing during his strange, "late in the game" 'ABC' (as in 'Anyone but Carter') campaign for the Presidency four years earlier (one in which he, however, somehow managed to win 3 Presidential Primaries, including his own California).
Many who knew Senator Kennedy have claimed that the simplest explanation for this gaffe is that he didn't really want to run for President- that he was somehow pushed into it (by either family or ideological allies, where not both)- and that his so rambling was typical of when he was unwilling to directly speak to something (in this case, because he himself really wasn't sure why he was running for President) ; others, however, point out that- at the time he gave the interview (it was taped at the very end of September 1979)- he was not yet ready to formally announce his candidacy (and he certainly wasn't going to do so during an interview with CBS that was being embargoed for over a month before being broadcast!), so he got caught between making sure the viewer knew he wasn't yet so announcing (hence his "Well, I-- um-- were I to make the announcement to run...") and putting forth the policy options he wanted to run on (thus, the rambling discourse that then ended with "it's imperative for this country to move forward... otherwise it moves back"), thereby completely missing out on answering the essential essence of Mudd's simple question.
I, however, disagree with both the above premises: as I have already suggested obliquely, Ted Kennedy was actually running not for the Presidency so much as he was running for that titular leadership of the Democratic Party that the Party's presidential nomination traditionally included even as regards someone who has lost the most recent Presidential Election (and, while the notion of "titular leader of the Party" has since lost its luster [for is Senator John McCain really the titular leader of the Republicans after having lost to President Obama in 2008?; what about either Al Gore or John Kerry as regards the Democrats during the election cycles immediately following their respective losses? Al Gore gained more actual votes "out in the field" than President George W. Bush yet got nothing out of that fact as regards his position within his own Party!], in 1980 this "titular leadership" still retained at least some worthiness) and it's not as if he could come right out and say (to Roger Mudd- or anyone else for that matter) "I'm running in order to keep Jimmy Carter and the people who would vote for him- or, for that matter, the Republicans- from taking over my Party- the Party of both my late brother Jack and my late brother Bobby".
(To be fair, by the way, and if only by way of disclaimer here: I did not see the broadcast of this interview 'live' [or at least "live to video"] as it was first broadcast- though I have often seen at least excerpts from it on videotape over the years and decades since- for I was, on that first Sunday in November of 1979 on which it was broadcast, getting my very first look at the apartment in New York City's Borough of Queens in which I would be living by the end of that same month; in fact, at the time this interview actually aired, I was on a train heading back from "the City" [as we in the Metro New York/Tri State region call New York City-- as if there is only one ;-)] to my parents' house in suburban New Jersey in which I was still officially resident until I later so moved).
Regardless, Ted Kennedy was starting out on his '80 presidential campaign wearing at least one cement running shoe: a second cement running shoe loomed in the "rally 'round the flag" support President Carter was already getting in the wake of the beginning of the Iranian hostage crisis, support that only increased when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan during the week between Christmas 1979 and New Year's 1980. Kennedy himself constantly complained that Carter refused to debate him, but polls showed that most Americans- and, more to the point, most Democrats- very much liked the fact that Carter was employing a so-called "Rose Garden campaign strategy"- seemingly concentrating only on the important issues at hand, not out on the hustings shilling for votes. For his own part, Jimmy Carter had already- during the preceding summer- told some Democratic Congressmen that, when it came to Ted Kennedy running against him, "I'll whip his ass"... early on as the 1980 Primary/Caucus "season" began to unfold, President Carter began to do just that!
The President won the Democratic Presidential Primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday 26 February 1980 by 10 percentage points (a major blow to Senator Kennedy, considering that he represented the Granite State's immediate neighbor to the south): Kennedy did parry this thrust by winning his own State's Presidential Primary by a landslide on Tuesday 4 March but he also lost big in Vermont on the same day. Three Southern States- Alabama, Florida and Georgia- all held Presidential Primaries on Tuesday 11 March and, not surprisingly, Southerner Carter won them all (Kennedy could not even make any significant inroads in the Sunshine State that was already well losing its "Dixie" political heritage and, thus, in the process of transmogrifying into the political Florida of today). But the big blow was in Illinois come Tuesday 18 March: despite the support of Chicago's Mayor, Jane Byrne, the Land of Lincoln's Democrats went for Carter by over 2-1 (which showed just whom the Democratic "regulars" in that State- many of these still loyal to the memory of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley [who had died just after the previous Presidential Election]- really preferred)...
Ted Kennedy was now on the ropes: he now very much- and badly- needed a victory or his presidential candidacy was "toast".
What saved Senator Kennedy's bacon- if not also his posterior [;-)]- would come on Tuesday 25 March 1980 when both Connecticut and New York State would be holding Democratic Presidential Primaries (I was now already living in that apartment in Queens [and my Representative in Congress happened to be the person who would, four years later, become the first woman on a Major Party National Ticket: Geraldine Ferraro] and the New York Presidential Primary would be the very first election in which I would ever be voting as a citizen of the Empire State [I was not quite 24 years old at the time and had actually been voting in New Jersey over the previous six years]: I can still well remember the volunteers for Carter and Kennedy alike fairly littering my neighborhood with a veritable blizzard of campaign literature beginning the previous weekend all the way into Primary Day itself-- one could not even enter a subway station in New York City without someone shoving some political brochure into one's hand! One week later, these same subway stations would be shuttered by the first day of what turned out to be an 11-day-long Transit Strike): the Massachusetts Senator won both Primaries- New York quite handily, Connecticut much more narrowly... but at least Kennedy's presidential campaign was still breathing, even if not quite ready to do so without life support!
There was still bad news for Kennedy's candidacy as President Carter handily won Democratic Presidential Primaries in Kansas and Wisconsin (both on Tuesday 1 April) and Louisiana (Saturday 5 April), all of which set up something of a "last stand" for Kennedy come the Pennsylvania Presidential Primary on Tuesday 22 April 1980. Kennedy would narrowly win the popular vote in the Keystone State (once more "living to campaign for the Presidency another day") but, due to the kind of convoluted delegate selection math one can see on this very website as regards the three Presidential Elections The Green Papers has covered ever since it first appeared on the Internet almost a decade ago now, Carter actually narrowly won more of Pennsylvania's National Convention delegates (and, again, as I myself have written on this very website: "it's the delegates, stupid!").
The rest of the 1980 Democratic Primaries were now to be but a battle of attrition: despite the failure of an attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran three days after the voting in Pennsylvania (an event that helped President Carter in some ways [short term] but hurt him in other ways [long term]), the incumbent in the White House won most of them but, except for a couple "serious beatdowns" of Kennedy in Southern states (Texas on Saturday 3 May; North Carolina and Tennessee on Tuesday 6 May), the Massachusetts Senator stayed close enough in second place in even those Primaries he lost to still qualify for chunks of National Convention delegates under the proportional distribution of same the McGovern-Fraser reforms of a nearly a decade earlier required. As the final weeks of 1980's Primary/Caucus "season" ticked off, Carter moved inexorably closer to re-nomination while Kennedy kept garnering enough delegates to have significant input into just what might go into the Democratic Party Platform to be hammered out at the Convention that summer.
At least some of the vote Senator Kennedy was, by now, getting was a "protest vote" against the seeming inevitability of President Carter's re-nomination, so this didn't necessarily mean that Kennedy's liberal positions were becoming any more acceptable to the Democratic Party "bell curve" of the time than they had been at the start of the process when Kennedy was still struggling (for instance: progressive Oregon, on Tuesday 20 May, went for Carter over Kennedy by some 25 percentage points) but at least the Senator was "still in there pitching" (for Carter had yet to actually clinch the nomination) when the final Democratic Presidential Primaries were held- in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota and West Virginia- on what was, back then, still "Super Tuesday": 3 June 1980.
Senator Kennedy pinned his hopes of derailing the incumbent President at the last by winning the three biggest States voting that day- California, New Jersey and Ohio- by significant margins: in the end, he won two of the three (losing Ohio to Carter) but only one of these two he did win (New Jersey) was taken by a significant margin. Kennedy also won three of the five smaller States voting on 1980's "Super Tuesday" (Carter won only in Montana and West Virginia) but no matter: President Carter now had the pledges of more than the 1,666 Democratic National Convention delegates needed for nomination that year.
For Ted Kennedy, then, there would be no "on to New York City [where the 1980 Democratic Convention was to be held] and let's win there!"...
As his brother Bobby certainly would have done twelve years earlier had he but lived, Ted Kennedy gamely brought his already mortally wounded presidential campaign to the National Convention, which began in New York's Madison Square Garden (the place where Jimmy Carter had first been nominated for President four years earlier, where Bill Clinton would first be nominated twelve years later and where Republican George W. Bush would accept re-nomination for the Presidency twelve years later still) on Monday 11 August 1980. The Massachusetts Senator had yet one more card- albeit a "wild card"- to play:
even as the votes were still being counted in the later Presidential Primaries held back on "Super Tuesday" in June, polls were clearly showing that many Democrats were already disaffected with President Carter- so disaffected, in fact, that they were indicating a willingness to "defect" and vote for Ronald Reagan, who would formally be nominated at the Republican National Convention in July but who, by the 3rd of June, had already wrapped up that nomination in his own Party's series of Primaries and Caucuses. Senator Kennedy decided that, just as Bobby had intended to do in 1968 in relation to then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey, he would try and keep President Carter from winning the nomination outright on the First Ballot and then hope that enough Carter delegates would have seen the disaffection "out there" with Carter among even within his own Party and- within the Convention Hall- grab hold of the candidate with the Kennedy name... it was a last grasp at (if not also the last gasp of) the already fading magic of that surname within the Party.
Whether it could even have worked or not is not the issue: the key is that Senator Kennedy seems to have thought it would work; at the end of July, Kennedy went so far as to get moderate Republican Illinois Congressman John Anderson (one of those who had unsuccessfully challenged Reagan for the GOP presidential nomination and then decided to- while he still had the chance, due to ballot access laws and rules- drop that bid and, instead, pursue an independent 'National Unity campaign' in the Fall) to agree, ahead of time, to completely abandon his independent presidential bid should Carter not, in fact, be the Democratic Party nominee (on the theory that Anderson would be gunning for many more voters more likely to vote for Kennedy should the Senator, instead, be the Democratic standard-bearer)... quixotic, indeed!
And the very key to Senator Kennedy's last-ditch stratagem was an attempt to change the rule of the Democratic Party whereby the delegates were required to vote for the candidate to whom they had been pledged in the Primaries or Caucus/Convention systems of the several jurisdictions represented at the Convention on at least the First Ballot; this would, of course, have to be done by vote of the Convention itself ('Parliamentary Procedure 101': a body can change its own rules by its own vote at any time)... if Kennedy succeeded in this endeavor (and it was a mighty big 'if'!), delegates originally pledged to Jimmy Carter could then vote for Kennedy- or anyone else, for that matter- on the First Ballot instead of the incumbent President (of course, the flip side of this particular coin was that delegates originally pledged to Kennedy could also vote for whomever they wanted on the First Ballot-- but Kennedy was not necessarily out to win outright; he merely wanted an 'open Convention' that might- if only eventually- turn to him and that would only happen if he could, somehow, keep President Carter below the 1,666 delegate votes needed for nomination on that First Ballot and then "work the [rather large] room" before a Second Ballot even got underway).
The entire first evening of the Convention (after the organizational preliminaries earlier that day) was given over to debating this impromptu rules change (it was presented as "the open Convention rule" in an attempt, by Kennedy delegates, to make it more palatable to the assembled but, officially, it was the 'Minority Report on Proposed Rule No. 5 to amend Rule F3[c]'... referring to an "open Convention" was-- well-- "sexier" [meanwhile- and speaking of "sex"- the Kennedy forces at this Convention, at the same time, derisively attacked the existing rule (that which would allow any candidate who had a delegate pledged to him to replace said delegate if that delegate did not vote as pledged on at least the First Ballot) as- a rather strange choice of words- 'Bind and Yank'!]):
the one hour of debate began at 6:30 PM Eastern Time and culminated in a Roll Call vote that-- well-- took as much time as Convention Roll Calls of the States always seem to take (but, since I lived in Queens, just a relatively short subway ride from my then-job in Accounts Receivable for an electronics wholesaler in lower Manhattan [thank goodness that damn Transit Strike was over by them! ;-)], I was able to park myself in front of the [black and white] TV in my apartment and watch the whole thing unfold). Carter supporters declaimed, for example, that so changing the rules only once it was already apparent who had already gained the nomination was (to take one example) as if a losing Baseball team were- right in the middle of a game!- suddenly given "a fifth ball, a fourth out, a tenth inning"; Kennedy supporters retorted- for instance- that Carter was a hypocrite because he himself had managed to gain that 1976 presidential nomination which allowed him to even be the incumbent President because many delegates not pledged to him had been free to switch their votes to him at the ensuing Convention in the same place in which they were then also meeting even though he was still a few hundred votes shy of the presidential nomination after "Super Tuesday" 1976 had ended the Primary/Caucus "season" that year (indeed, 'Bind and Yank' had only first been adopted by the Party at their 1978 Midterm Conference [but only because not so binding delegates to the candidates to which they had been pledged in Primaries and Caucuses clearly violated the very spirit of the McGovern-Fraser reforms that themselves had only just fully kicked in back in '76])...
in the end, however, the attempt to change the rule in Kennedy's favor lost by a vote of 1936.42 to 1390.58 (ah, the joys of Fractional Voting in those old Democratic National Conventions! [;-)]) and 'Bind and Yank' was, thereby, enshrined as the principal method of handling similar situations within the Democratic Party presidential nominating process pretty much ever since; meanwhile, shortly afterwards, about two hours after this Roll Call had been completed (and well in time for broadcast on the late evening [11 o'clock Eastern/10 o'clock Central] local news throughout the eastern half of the country), Senator Kennedy held a news conference at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and formally dropped out of a presidential nomination race he could now no longer win.
In a way, however, Kennedy had won: for he had made his point that political liberalism was still an important player in the Democratic Party (something he clearly thought would otherwise be lost in the manner in which President Carter would now have to challenge Ronald Reagan in the ensuing General Election: one has to wonder just how many more liberal voters independent John Anderson might have garnered at Carter's expense that November had Kennedy not so strongly made the case for his own belief that, no matter what, liberals should always have a home within the Democratic "tent"); in addition, there was the fight over the Party Platform still looming (a battle that would take up most of the next two days of the Convention- Tuesday 12 August and Wednesday 13 August [though it did not at all disrupt the schedule re: formally re-nominating President Carter on Wednesday night]). Kennedy himself chose to address the Convention on Tuesday night the 12th, ostensibly on behalf of his minority planks within the economic section of the Platform but, in reality, it was more something of his "swan song" as a national candidate.
Kennedy declaimed that he did not at all desire to witness the great purposes of the Democratic Party become the bygone passages of History. He told the assembled that [t]he commitment I seek is not to outworn views, but to old values that will never wear out... Circumstances may change but the work of Compassion must continue... The Poor may be out of political fashion, but they are not without human needs; the Middle Class may be angry, but they have not lost the dream that all Americans can advance together (this last clause a rather curious pronouncement considering the Senator's own experiences in Boston's City Hall plaza nearly six years before, not to mention the violence related to the busing issue in what he would describe as his "hometown" over the following few years- yet this is was what Ted Kennedy most fervently believed).
His speech crested with its final line: For all those whose cares have been our concern: the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.
As the final echoes of his voice died away, then immediately began more than half an hour of a floor demonstration on behalf of the Massachusetts Senator, after which Kennedy's fellow Bay Stater, Speaker of the House Thomas "Tip" O'Neill (he of "all Politics is local"), gaveled most of Kennedy's minority economy-related planks into the Platform by voice vote.
We need not dwell here upon the immediate aftermath of all this: Jimmy Carter was, indeed, renominated for President by his Democratic Party on Wednesday evening (13 August 1980)- garnering some 200 more delegate votes than had supported his own side's opposition to changing Rule F3[c] two nights before; there was, of course, the infamous "awkward moment" after President Carter had delivered his Acceptance Speech the following evening (Thursday 14 August 1980) when, as the renominated Democratic Party National Ticket of Carter and Vice-President Walter Mondale (destined to become the 1984 Democratic standard-bearer and, like Carter, also destined to lose a presidential election to Ronald Reagan) took to the stage- soon joined by their wives, other family members and other prominent Democrats- Ted Kennedy came onto the stage, looking all the world as if he really didn't want to be there and (or so it appeared to those watching) trying, for the longest time, to avoid any kind of physical contact- even a handshake- with the President.
For his part, President Carter gave rather begrudging- at best, lukewarm- endorsement to the 1980 Democratic Party Platform that contained far more of Kennedy's positions on many issues than one would have thought possible considering that an incumbent President had been renominated by the same Convention which had adopted it. In his remarks upon his withdrawal from the race on the first night of the Convention, as well as in his speech before that body the following evening, Senator Ted Kennedy had called for unity; yet, the challenger who would be elected President that following November, Ronald Reagan, summed it all up quite succinctly when- while watching the final moments of the Democratic Convention on television- he wryly observed: "If that's the best they can do in unity, they have a long way to go".
After the 1980 Elections, Senator Kennedy- for the first time in his political career- found himself a member of the Minority in the United States Senate: he would be such for six years; then, after eight years again in the Majority, Kennedy's Democrats would, once more, find themselves in the Minority for a dozen more years. All in all, during the final nearly three decades of Ted Kennedy's service in the Senate- the three decades following his defeat in what was to be his only quest for the Presidency- he would spend more time (by a ratio of about 3 to 2) as a Minority Senator than as a Majority Senator.
Despite his name cropping up over at least the next few Presidential Election cycles as a potential presidential candidate (and it is actually rather jolting to realize that, going into the 1992 Presidential Election, Senator Kennedy was still younger than anyone who had, up till then, served as President of the United States! In that same year of 1992 in which there would finally be elected a President younger than himself [this, of course, being his fellow Democrat, Bill Clinton], Ted had only just become 60 years old!), Ted Kennedy never ever again became a serious candidate for the Presidency.
Instead, he had- after the bruising nomination battle of 1980- finally completed that decade-long journey to his legacy, a journey that had taken him from the political punishment he received in the wake of 'Chappaquiddick' to defending his liberalism before those assembled in Madison Square Garden as well as watching on national television to a legacy of that of a United States Senator fighting hard for liberal positions on the issues debated on the Senate floor even as they were being (well, often as not) crafted into actual legislation... for that is what he would, in fact, be for the rest of his political career. Once Bill Clinton had been elected President, "the torch had been passed"- to use Ted's brother John's words from his Inaugural Address- and Ted Kennedy was clearly, despite his still relatively young age, now the quintessential "elder statesman".
Yes, he would still appear at each and every Democratic National Convention and deliver a fighting, fiery speech excoriating the devil that, to him, was the views of Republicans (in particular, more conservative Republicans) while, at the same time, extolling the more heavenly, in his own eyes, virtues of his own Democrats' National Ticket (Clinton/Gore [twice]; Gore/Lieberman and Kerry/Edwards). However, he never again lashed out at a Democrat running for President- at least not publicly- the way he had once taken on Jimmy Carter: neither Bill Clinton nor his Vice-President, Al Gore (despite the contrary views of many a conservative pundit and/or talk show host) was ever as liberal as Teddy Kennedy (for Kennedy liberalism, as Ted practiced it, had little, if any, room for the "aw, shucks" Populism that Clinton so easily- where not also so readily- embraced and Gore himself also liked but found so difficult to feign [Gore's problem in this regard was that- although, like Clinton, he had been born in the South- he had been raised in D.C. by a Congressman, then Senator, father: unlike Clinton, Gore had the accent-- but not the attitude!]); on the other hand, Mike Dukakis and John Kerry were both at least from Massachusetts and, therefore, Ted Kennedy knew them both quite well (and, therefore, probably found their politics much more understandable as well as more acceptable).
There is no doubt, however, that Ted Kennedy definitely saw a kindred spirit in Senator Barack Hussein Obama of Illinois and, whether you like President Obama and/or his Administration's policies or not, there is no question of the importance that Senator Kennedy's rather early endorsement of Obama had in helping the Illinoisan win the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and, ultimately, the Presidency itself. As things would turn out, said endorsement and its resultant effects on the outcome of the 2008 Presidential Election was to be that generation- Ted's generation- of Kennedys' last direct impact upon American presidential politics.
Thus, it was no accident that Senator Kennedy rose from his sickbed and made the long flight to the Democratic Convention in Denver at which Obama was to become the first African-American ever nominated for President so that he could there proclaim, in words purposely evocative of his own final speech as a presidential candidate 28 years earlier, that the work begins anew, the hope rises again and the dream lives on.
Senator Kennedy uttered those very words on Monday 25 August 2008...
exactly a year to the day later, he was gone: having disappeared into the very same mists of History into which his slain brothers had, long ago, already gone but, in Ted's case, his trip into those mists was taken in a much more peaceful way.
So what can now be said?-- what words can truly sum up the legacy of Ted Kennedy?
Perhaps the best way is to use Senator Kennedy's own words, from his eulogy of his slain brother Bobby in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral on that long ago June Saturday morning- words which marked the truest beginning of Ted's having "pick[ed] up a fallen standard" as he himself would say 2 1/2 months thereafter.
Thus, we can say- of Edward Moore Kennedy- that he need not be idealized, nor enlarged in Death beyond what he was in Life: 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.
The lack of personal decency in things such as 'Chappaquiddick' or going out to a Palm Beach bar on the evening of Good Friday in 1991 with his son Patrick and nephew William Smith (which started a chain of events leading to Smith being accused of rape, a charge of which he was later acquitted) put aside (while, at the same time, they should not be glossed over either- for, like it or not, they are part of the now late Senator Kennedy's story), he was, at the very least, politically decent. Whether one agreed with his politics or not, only those with the hardest of hearts could bring themselves to say that Senator Kennedy did not ever seek to advance the "common good" as he himself saw it.
Like what he himself had said about Bobby, Ted Kennedy tried his best to right wrongs, to heal suffering and stop wars: sometimes he was (well-- one man's opinion, at least!) wrong, once in a while even "14-carat wrong"; at other times, he was not only right but "right on"! Like what was said, by Edmund Burke, of those who ushered in the very beginnings of this American Republic, the late Senator could "snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze" but- like so many in Politics (as well as political punditry- to which *I* am certainly no exception), regardless of Party or ideology- he would, and all too often, detect such a taint in many a breeze in which none was ever to actually be found.
To be sure, once he had married his wife Victoria in the early 1990s, "Tabloid Teddy"- that which tended to lead to the aforementioned personal indecency- quickly began to disappear to the point where, toward the end of his life, we could- as we can now that his life is over- judge him much more fairly on his own merits (or lack thereof), depending on what it is we might be judging...
in short, Ted Kennedy lived long enough to leave a record of no little personal and political complexity, but one that could eventually be sorted through- and, thereby, sorted out- by future historians: this was, sadly, something neither Jack nor Bobby ever got to do.
Jack and Bobby Kennedy are, forever, locked in that approaching-but not quite- Middle Age they each did not get to live beyond and their personality traits, as national political figures, when translated into political ones (Jack the adventurous risk-taker, sometimes dangerously so, who was often emotionally affected by the events of his short-lived Presidency; Bobby the ruthless political animal who, nonetheless, exhibited much caring and compassion when directly confronted with either sickening scenes of abject poverty or having to be the one to publicly break the news of the assassination of a major Civil Rights leader) risk all too much caricature as a result.
Ted, however, is different: for we can see still photos and film and video footage of him as a young, "wet behind the ears" freshman Senator; as a young adult politician growing older, with- eventually- grey beginning to show at the temples; as a greying middle aged man still vigorous enough to be railing at the political demons he perceived dominating the positions of those on the other side of the aisle; and then, finally, as the great grey-haired political lion, bespectacled like some early 21st Century version of Benjamin Franklin at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. In other words, unlike his older brothers, Ted has left a long series of "visuals" in our minds, representing physical changes over time which also represent who he was (as we remember him, as I myself have remembered him in this very piece) through all that time yet also at specific times within that scope of time...
put simply: unlike Jack and Bobby, Ted got to have- and lead- a full life.
When assessing any person's life- whether a public figure of no little import such as Edward Moore Kennedy or some anonymous "everyperson" we might pass just about every day on the street on, say, the way to work until, one day, they're simply not there anymore and we, of course, don't even really notice- I often think of the words of Galatians 5:22-23a in that New Testament revered as Holy Writ by Christians in which it is said that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. As human beings, we do not- indeed, cannot- always show such "fruit of the spirit" to others because we much too often fail at either loving or being happy or acting in a peaceful manner and being either kind or good or faithful or gentle, or exercising self-control.
And there were certainly times in Ted Kennedy's life in which his own failures to so exhibit "the fruit of the spirit" were, indeed, rather apparent... so it has been, at times, with myself (though none of my own failures in this regard have- at least so far!- been so public and so widely known as Senator Kennedy's have been): as it likely will be again (and again and again and--- [;-)]) so long as I live and breathe... so it must have been- and will yet be- even for you, gentle reader. Only when one recognizes this can one then fairly assess the life of another... for only then can, say, the perpetrator of 'Chappaquiddick' and the fighter- on the floor of the United States Senate- for the original Voting Rights Act (within a year of each other, by the way) ever be reconciled.
In the end, Ted Kennedy's ultimate political goal- whatever his personal failings- might best be expressed by what comes later in that same chapter of the Apostle Paul's Letter to the Galatians from which I have quoted above where it is urged (in 5:26): Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. That was the community- that "Commonwealth... [where] we all come together for the common good"; that "America [as] a compact, a bargain, a contract [where] all of us are connected: [where] our fates are intertwined" (as Senator Kennedy said at the 2004 Democratic Convention)- in which Senator Kennedy most earnestly believed and thought (rightly or wrongly) the levers of the American Republic could aid that very Republic in its so becoming.
Whether or not such is possible in a society and culture such as early 21st Century America's is something we who live in what is now the post-Ted Kennedy United States all must now ponder.