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Observations of a Kid From Massachusetts

When it was time for Ted Kennedy to speak tonight, I had to make my way across the crush of the convention floor to hear him with the Massachusetts delegation. I’m not a kid anymore, alas, but I still think of myself as a Massachusetts kid. I grew up in Fall River, which is the heart of the heart of the heart of Kennedy’s political base. I often joke that the turnout slogan in my hometown is: “Vote for the Kennedy of your choice, but vote.”

What struck me was that the feeling on the floor when Kennedy spoke was of warmth and appreciation, but not nostalgia. Partly because Kennedy put himself in the middle of Barack Obama’s campaign, but also because he stayed in the middle of so many fights --particularly for universal health care -- he’s not seen as a figure of the past.

His words tonight fought against nostalgia right to the very last line. When he drew on his famous 1980 Democratic National Convention speech, he changed everything into the present tense: “the work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on.”

The Massachusetts delegation is full of veterans of every Ted Kennedy campaign going back to his very first race for the Senate in 1962. Boston Mayor Tom Menino told me that he worked on that race when he was 19 years old. Standing next to him was Nick Mitropoulos, whose first campaign was Kennedy’s 1970 race.

Everybody knows about Kennedy’s fights on the issues. The reason he’s beloved -- in Massachusetts, but also in other parts of the country -- is because of his attention to the small things that turn out to be very big for individuals. Menino remembered talking to Kennedy about a Boston education issue and having his phone ring on a Sunday afternoon. “Kennedy had been thinking about the issue since I talked to him about it,” Menino said, “and he had figured it out. He just told me: Here’s what we’re going to do.”

State Sen. Mark Pacheco of Taunton said it was impossible to count the notes Kennedy had written or the calls he had made to people who had done him kindnesses small and large.

We get very cynical about politics and politicians, assuming that everything they do is for votes, and that their reactions are those of machines and not actual human beings. We forget that some of them, probably more of them than we think, actually get into the business because they like being with people and helping people. Kennedy, to say the least, is not a saint. But the outpouring on this floor tonight was not contrived. Kennedy is admired in this party because of his passion and because he really believes in things. But he’s loved because he’s done a lot of things for a lot of folks -- including Republicans.

By E.J. Dionne  | August 25, 2008; 10:31 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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You are right Kennedy is far far from being a saint. Like many of the Kennedys he felt he was above the law and if they were immoral, caused death or whatever, it was okay because they were the Kennedys of wealth and privilege. And they got by with all of it.

Posted by: Katherine | August 25, 2008 10:42 PM | Report abuse

It is passing strange, to see a beloved old man flawed but fearless, tested and
treasured, facing death with courage after a lifetime of service, denigrated by people who were not there, do not know what happened, and can't wait for God to judge him.

Posted by: dutchess2 | August 26, 2008 12:16 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, well, other than the two guys who got shot, and the other guy who hears Chappaquiddick every time his name comes up. Other than that, they got away with it all. The Kennedys have done more for America than any other family, bar none. Have some respect.

Posted by: Katherine | August 26, 2008 1:47 AM | Report abuse

Kathleen's "comment" actually reminds me a lot of George W. Bush...But to more plesant things: EJ is terrific for sitting in the Mass. delegation, describing his "roots" in Fall River (I'm from New Bedford)and discussing how S.E.Mass. was, indeed, the "heart" of Kennedy Massachusetts...his brother's old Senate pictures from the 1950's hang on many walls throughout the region. Thanks for those memories, EJ!

Posted by: Richard Walega | August 26, 2008 2:45 AM | Report abuse

What About Mary Jo?

Posted by: Charles | August 26, 2008 3:24 AM | Report abuse

I watched the Convention coverage ONLY for Ted Kennedy. Yes there was Chappaquiddick - but I feel that Ted has more than atoned for that - and Ted Kennedy has done a lot for this country. No matter what you think of the man, his work as a Senator has been for the good of this entire country. And for that, he epitomizes a true Senator of these United States.

Posted by: Tess | August 26, 2008 7:09 AM | Report abuse

I'll bet there are LOTS of felons who served jail time for involuntary manslaughter who feel Kennedy HAS NOT atoned for the death of a young woman.

Betcha' lots of folks who accidentally killed someone with a motor vehicle would GLADLY try and do some good if only we'd not punish them for taking someone else's life.

Whatever Kennedy has done with his life since Chappaquiddick, he most assuredly HAS NOT atoned for the death of Mary Joe Koepchne.

Posted by: ATONED for that, Tess? | August 26, 2008 7:17 AM | Report abuse

The Kennedys are overrated. John F. Kennedy wasn't much of a president, but a charismatic iconic figure at best. He could have been a good president, but he would never have been a great president as he wasn't willing to expend the kind of political capital during that contentious era to get big things passed (as LBJ was in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed).

The Kennedys represented and still represent a kind of not-truly-effective but iconically appealing left-wing ideological aristocracy for the Democrats.

As a functional arm of the party leadership, they aren't particularly bright, effective, productive or leadership. Ted Kennedy himself has blocked windfarms off Massachusetts like the kind Denmark has, so as to not change the view off Martha's Vinyard.

The Kennedys are long-dated, no longer helpful aristocratic iconic figures for the Democrats. They aren't really making a helpful contribution to the party anymore and their interference in the election year politics this year to insert an over-the-top emotional ideological excess into what should have been a push to win at all costs, isn't helping anyone.

Icons become destructive when they insist that they can be useful or take control of a process. At this point, the Kennedys have become baggage from the past that should be let go. The Democratic party needs an intervention or something, to shake them loose from the domination of their imaginations by this attractive, but useless, clan.

Posted by: AsperGirl | August 26, 2008 7:18 AM | Report abuse

In his life, Kennedy lost 4 siblings prematurely, he has had to be the patriarch of a large family without fathers. He married a woman who had an incurable alcohol problem and had a son with cancer. He has taken on responsibilities far beyond what most people have experienced. He has sponsored and fought for so many causes and left a legacy of legislation for the generations. Let's not forget.

Posted by: Les | August 26, 2008 7:18 AM | Report abuse

"Lots of folks who accidentally killed someone with a motor vehicle" would include Laura Bush--does she get a free pass?
Ted Kennedy has done many things in his life--and many that are truly praiseworthy. Let God judge him, and acknowledge the courage and class he is showing in the face of this challenge.

Posted by: Texas Dem | August 26, 2008 7:45 AM | Report abuse

As an ex-pat from MA, I deplore some of the private events in Sen. Kennedy's personal life BUT, he has always voted the way I wanted him too. If other Washington pols did as he did on the floor of the Senate and behind the scenes, Americans would be a lot better off today than they are.

Posted by: DL Nelson | August 26, 2008 8:33 AM | Report abuse

How can you "atone" for someones death? If that was your child who was "accidentally murdered" you would feel otherwise. Remember the word empathy? The man deserves far worse than he is getting.

Posted by: preston | August 26, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of failing to atone, what about that First Lady, what's her name, who killed someone in a car accident? And what about that guy who became president who after lying about his cocaine use and drunk driving convictions, and who procured an abortion for his girlfriend? And who's the guy who dumped his wife to go gold-digging after a young home-wrecking heiress? Oh, I forgot, they're Republicans. Never mind.

Posted by: Chris | August 26, 2008 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Ted Kennedy would have never survived had he been a Republican...the amoral, anti-American left nurtured and supported this waste of skin...that and a partisan press.

Ms Kopechne awaits him.......

Posted by: George Dixon | August 26, 2008 9:12 AM | Report abuse

George W. Bush was an alcoholic and cocaine abuser and his wife killed someone and wasn't even ticketed. What about them?

Posted by: David | August 26, 2008 9:52 AM | Report abuse

The Democratic party needs an intervention or something, to shake them loose from the domination of their imaginations by this attractive, but useless, clan.

Posted by: AsperGirl | August 26, 2008 7:18 AM

I agree with AsperGirl, but instead of the Kennedy's, she should apply it to the Clintons. They are indeed a useless clan. At least the Kennedy's look good, the Clintons are just plain Ugly. Good Post AsperGirl!!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

The Democratic party needs an intervention or something, to shake them loose from the domination of their imaginations by this attractive, but useless, clan.

Posted by: AsperGirl | August 26, 2008 7:18 AM

I agree with AsperGirl, but instead of the Kennedy's, she should apply it to the Clintons. They are indeed a useless clan. At least the Kennedy's look good, the Clintons are just plain Ugly. Good Post AsperGirl!!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

It is unfortunate that in 2008 we still haven't been able to set aside accusations of personal misdeeds, motivated by partisan hatred, when evaluating contributions to our country by some of the best of our politicians.
Ted Kennedy is flawed, as are many other great contributors to our country. So are many on the other side of the aisle, some in much worse ways. Many of these flawed people have contributed greatly and that should be recognized without dimming by partisan hatred, rancor and hypocrisy!

Posted by: hypo-xposer | August 26, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Reading these comments is pretty depressing.

Here we have a major political figure fighting a terminal disease and read the majority of comments. Petty, vicious, crude and completely lacking in compassion, understanding, empathy or humanity.

Is this the level our so called intelligent comments exist on?

I fear the direction this country is heading.

Posted by: Dave | August 26, 2008 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Thank God for Ted Kennedy. It is so great to see a great man like Ted up there, fighting adversity and the morons around him, persevering, kicking the idiots in the teeth, and winning. And for the whiners, really, f.uc.k you, Ted is one of the great ones.

Posted by: POed Lib | August 26, 2008 11:39 AM | Report abuse

What abyssmal ignorance and total lack of intelligence is displayed here, by the Party of Stupid, the Repukeliscum. If Kennedy had been a Repukeliscum like Laura Bush, who killed her boyfriend deliberately, he would have been celebrated like the Repukeliscum celebrate Laura. There are many on the right who have blood on their hands, such as George W. Sh.ithead, who killed 700,000 Iraqis, 4300 Americans, and is still supported by the on the right.

Posted by: POed Lib | August 26, 2008 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Many of you don't recall the drunk driving laws in the 1960s: there weren't any. Drinkers were considered not responsible for their actions then. Ted Kennedy, with his seniority, could have worked on the glamorous committee assignments but worked instead on the laws that makes America better: women's health, child welfare, environmental and labor laws. Essential legislation that nobody cares about until you wonder why China or Mexico are they way they are.

Posted by: Grosse Pointe Park | August 26, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, I want to agree with Dave above. Future generations of historians are going to review the commentary on antique web pages like this one, in a vain attempt to comprehend from where came the level of irrational bile and disgraceful pettiness that is so common at this moment. Partisans are so quick to send any level of animosity at public figures like Kennedy, while being proud of they fact that they have no familiarity at all with his voting record, legistlation, or decades of hard work and public service.

I don't get it. My only working theory is that people must feel some kind of catharsis by venting their spleens like this. But in the case of someone who has been diagnosed with a fatal disease, I have to say it's particularly mean-spirited and tasteless.

Posted by: Chris | August 26, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Ted Kennedy has spent his life in government, 46 years to be specific, and has no experience working. This is the kind of man who comes to see government (and himself) as the be all and end all of human existence. If he had ever run an ice cream stand he would have learned something that he did not as he advocated more and more and more government programs, failed government programs. LBJ gave us the failed Great Society which declared war on poverty. Poverty won and so did crime and violence and illegitimacy
and the death of the idea of personal responsibility for one's life, and gangs and large urban public housing projects like Cabrini Green in Chicago and Pruitt Igoe in St. Louis. "The dream will never die," says Kennedy. LBJ gave us a nightmare. Here we go again.

Posted by: mhr | August 26, 2008 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Bottom line, Ted Kennedy has spent almost 50 years in the Senate tirelessly working for health care and on behalf of the have nots in our society. He is not perfect and has had many personal set backs. That makes him human, not a saint. But his hard work on behalf of the American public is practically unmatched in the U.S. Senate. Here's looking forward to his continued advocacy for health care and other important issues on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Posted by: Athan Manuel | August 26, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Just to demonstrate that both sides have flaws: One who had absolutely no experience working, when he was hired by Halliburton, was Dick Cheney. His lack of experience mixed with his arrogance convinced him to buy a competitor. In not doing his due diligence he saddled the company with enough asbestos liability to force it into bankruptcy. Like his boss his errors were bailed out by friends (no bid contracts)which got him a nice "little" parachute from Halliburton. Oh, and then, with all that experience he promotes a disastrous war, torture, spying on Americans and on, and on. I'm trying hard to find a contribution here but only find flaws.

Posted by: hypo-xposer | August 26, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I must say today that I am everlastingly weary of the mean-spirited, hateful and destructive rhetoric we have apparently come to believe that it is acceptable to direct towards each other and towards our public servants. While not particularly religious myself, I was reminded of biblical passages when reading these comments, specifically, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone", and, "judge not lest ye be judged." No matter what you say about the Kennedys, you cannot alter the fact that three of the four brothers gave their lives in the service of their country, and that Ted Kennedy has championed the disadvantaged for over four decades. Please, let us all recover our lost dignity and work together to make our country great again.

Posted by: Bill | August 26, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

I too hope that there's something cathartic about these posts. Whether it's Ted Kennedy or Maggie Thatcher (only yesterday) or the news commentator (name escapes me) that so recently died of cancer there seems to be a common nastiness that rules the land.

Posted by: Non-partisan | August 26, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Teddy was amazing. he had mistakes but he lived long enough to overcome them and has been a strong advocate for the common person. how many of us here can say that? when (R)'s are afraid, they lash out. they have no other tactic. ignore them.

Posted by: preAmerikkkan | August 26, 2008 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Ass-per-girl. Wow, you good Republican Christian right wing-nuts always forget the one about "judge not". Remember George Bush was "God's Candidate".

Posted by: You must be a good Christian | August 26, 2008 4:04 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: HANK...MARTHA'S VINEYARD | August 26, 2008 4:29 PM | Report abuse

by you on the left, his people, who can't seem to post without a smattering of "f.u.c.k you," "," (SP), "George W. Sh.ithed," Repuklescum," "," and referring to posters disagreed with as "Ass-per-girl."

Postings like these, and others, say nothing about the subject of the post, but speaks volumes of the poster.

Liberals. Count on them to embarrass their own.

Hey...great idea for a bumper sticker!

Posted by: I'm sure E. J. is appalled | August 26, 2008 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Didn't Dick Cheney tell Senator Leahy to "go f..k yourself"?

Were you wing nuts embarassed?

I doubt it.

Posted by: Were you appalled? | August 27, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

I keep hearing coments on a particuler canadates about how his rich daddy finnanced his campain and how the only reason he was an officer in the navy was once again due to his daddy pulling strings..Can't you people lay off JFK?

Posted by: Lodie | August 29, 2008 8:22 PM | Report abuse

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