Like many in my generation the name Kennedy and the word politics are
synonymous, not so much the family’s pivotal role on the national scene but in driving
own involvement. The first
Presidential campaigns that captivated me were those of Adlai Stevenson, but I
was just a kid. I cast my first
Presidential vote for Jack Kennedy and have been an unabashed political junky
ever since. I never vote without
remembering him. Kennedy was young,
especially in contrast to old guys like Truman and Eisenhower. He was one of us and so we could
relate to him personally. His
stunning death hit us hard and still evokes a visceral feeling of sadness for
me these many years after. By
the time he ran, Bobby Kennedy was significantly more evolved than Jack had
been and in some respects also the emotionally more accessible. So his loss was perhaps all the more
painful both because he seemed to have so much promise and because the times
were so much darker. We were
convinced he could make a difference.
I remain so, but where Jack and Bobby might have taken us is pure
We don’t have to be bothered with conjecture or caught up in myth when
it comes to Edward Moore Kennedy.
He lived his three score years and ten, and in doing so set before us a
complete record. Was he, as people
are saying, ultimately the most significant Kennedy? Perhaps, but saying so probably does a disservice to his
brothers and to him. Jack had a
unique charisma and was a memorable orator. He gave politics a new image and, as someone who has spent
much of his career helping build brands, I don’t discount how important that
was at the time and still is.
Bobby had passion and an aura of empathy that overshadowed the toughness
beneath. As such, he touched our
hearts. Teddy is the Kennedy we
really knew best, but who never evoked those larger than life stirrings within
us. He was no more than real life size,
flawed like us, which is what made him so endearing. He will be remembered solely for the
I think the real strength and substance of the Kennedy brothers was a
capacity to grow and in fact to thrive on adversity. The Bay of Pigs made the Kennedy presidency, and Jack’s
death brought out a new Bobby.
They thrived on defeat, not at the ballot box where they didn’t experience
it, but in real life where it seemed sometimes an irrational curse. Ted Kennedy’s moment came in that
painful sunshine interview with Roger Mudd where he blew any chance of being
president and understood, probably for the first time, what job awaited doing
with the title he had already firmly in his grasp.
They came to call him the lion of the Senate. I don’t quite know what that means. Republicans vilified him as the poster
boy of liberalism, a handy dartboard to shoot at in their most vitriolic
campaign commercials. In a way
both are cardboard images, too single dimensional to capture his large frame
and personality or the depth of his accomplishments. Circumstance cast him into the role of family grownup and
patriarch at too early an age and, we should not forget, by a clan that still
somehow values men over women.
From all we know, he was more than up to the task perhaps aided by that
famous Kennedy imperative to suck it up and perform, regardless of pain or cost.
I never thought Ted Kennedy a great speaker. He never had the emotional pull that his brothers had in
concretely influencing my life. He
made some mistakes from which only a Kennedy could emerge in one piece –
countless politicians have ended in the dustbin for far less. But he steadfastly stood for things in
a world where conviction has become a rare commodity. Thanks to his older brothers learning curve, he came to them
earlier and held on even when it hurt him. His absence in these last months of an often disgraceful,
heartless and disingenuous debate on healthcare is deeply felt and whatever
legislation comes will be less because of it. He opposed the Iraq war and never wavered. He stood with Barack Obama when the
talking heads were writing him off, again. Whether that support was pivotal is conjecture, which doesn’t
pertain to this Kennedy or how he should be remembered. His record needs no speculative embellishment.
Remembering Jack and Bobby still brings tears to my eyes, a sense of
personal loss and hurt that sometimes surprises me in its intensity. The loss of Ted Kennedy is moving in
its own way, but not at all for what might have been. Bobby loved to quote George
Bernard Shaw’s "I dream of things that never were and ask why not? Ted Kennedy’s life responded with, “why
not, indeed? He pursued the dream contending that it would never die. Let’s hope so, because that would be a legacy.