Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

August 26, 2009

A Moment in (Teddy Kennedy) History

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 5:03 am

It was my first reporting assignment right out of college. I’d wangled some second class press credentials for a short-lived Long Island daily (RIP) to cover the now-notorious August, 1968 Democratic Presidential Convention.

I’d still been in a state of shock at the second Kennedy assassination, Bobby Kennedy’s in June, coming on the heels of Martin Luther King’s in April (Bobby Kennedy’s astonishing emotional citation of Aeschylus on sorrow after King’s shooting–still one of the most moving moments in American political history).

So even before the riots broke out in Chicago–I was in the middle of them, not beaten but tear-gassed–it was a season of tears. Then I happened to hear about a press conference for a “Draft Teddy” movement.

It was a chaotic unorganized scene, in a sweaty crowded hotel ballroom, hosted I believe by Ohio Governor Mike Desalle*, one of the last of the old time machine politicians who’d naturally gravitated toward the Kennedys Last Hurrah style. (Did you ever read that novel–one of the best American political novels ever? Check it out).

It wasn’t officially authorized by Teddy, who had publicly disclaimed any ambition for the nomination, but who knew what might have happened if it had caught on?  I think there’s an even chance an emotional tide might have swept Hubert Humphrey, an underestimated figure) to the side. And I had terribly mixed feelings about it all.

Part of me, the part that made me one of those people who thought RFK’s ’68 campaign a high point of American politics, felt moved by the idea. Another part was horrified by the thought that Teddy would be assassinated too. How could one–even the most heartless Kennedy hater–deal with three Kennedy assassinations? What would that say about America, gone from the tragic to the macabre absurd? Perhaps that’s what makes me sensitive to, incensed by, the toleration of assassination threats I’ve been reporting on in this blog.. One wonders how much that possibility might have weighed in his decision.

Yes, I know I’ve written about the unanswered questions about Chappaquiddick, an inexcusable tragic failure. But this moment in Chicago in August ’68 was before that. Indeed it makes you wonder how different history might have been if Teddy hadn’t so unequivocally turned down a draft (and supported George McGovern’s brief, belated, long forgotten, ’68 effort).

Maybe he wouldn’t have won, maybe he wasn’t ready to be president (like, of course Richard Nixon was). But maybe he wouldn’t have been drowning his sorrows in alcohol on Chappaquiddick the next summer.

Oh well, I’m sure this will bring the haters out. Hate away, if hate makes you feel good, on a day like this. Someday maybe, if you grow up inside, you’ll develop a tragic sense of life, a tragic sense of history. Read Aeschylus, maybe it will help you develop one. Or at least The Last Hurrah.




  1. Memories of Ted: I visited his Senate office a few times in the 70s. His front office was staffed by women more gorgeous than the supermodels, made up to the nines, a total wet dream. I saw him speak on the New Haven green in 1970 for two losing candidates, Mim Daddario for Governor and Joe Duffey for the Senate, the day before the election. No more than 100 people on a blustery day, and a year after the Dike Bridge, yet Kennedy poured his heart out with fire and wit. Yet in 1984, at the Democratic Convention, I had a seat in the front row of the New York delegation right under the podium, as Kennedy stumbled and cracked through a desultory oration. He was a fat kid and a stud, a deep thinker who rarely read a book, a father to millions and dozens in his own family who once made a “waitress sandwich” with Chris Dodd in a Washington saloon. On the night of Chappaquidick, he drove with another woman in the front seat off Dike Bridge to avoid a local cop who was birdogging the Senator. He and the woman got out of the water and wandered back to the party, when, only then, someone asked, “Where is Mary Jo?” She had fallen asleep in the back of the car and neither Ted nor his date had noticed she was there. Of such absursdity and grandeur is America constructed. Rest in peace to a flawed yet noble soul.

    Comment by charlie finch — August 26, 2009 @ 8:34 am | Reply

  2. “How could one–even the most heartless Kennedy hater–deal with three Kennedy assassinations?”

    Yup, we might have had to worry about another left-wing fruitcake murdering a Kennedy. Lee Harvey Oswald was a committed Communist and Sirhan Sirhan apparently embraced a standard leftist perspective regarding Israel. These lefties are so dangerous.

    Comment by David Thomson — August 26, 2009 @ 8:52 am | Reply

  3. JFK acted in Aeschylus at Choate, RFK quoted Aeschylus but really read Edith Hamilton (cf. Brian Lamb’s interview with Frank Mankiewicz on C-SPAN’s “Q&A” last Sunday), Teddy drank Aeschylus with Yeltsin

    Comment by charlie finch — August 26, 2009 @ 10:04 am | Reply

  4. Interesting, Charlie. “Haters”? I’ll give you hateful. No Aeschylus quotation. Ron, I like where your going with the Chappaquidick thing. You know for as venal an animal as that Joe Kennedy was he sure did push those sons. He seemed to take care of all the (positive) cardinal sins himself except for pride, and he left that for them to fulfill (for him, maybe momma), Joe the footballer, bomber pilot hero to the point of volunteering for that insanely loaded bomber mission that he got blown up in, Jack well you now, and Robert. Teddy must have thought, ‘What’s with this Jesus Christ IV mission? Let this cup pass from me. On second thought, a little drinking (and carousing) might be a good start.’ And it turned out to be finish like maybe was more sane and maybe that was partially at least where he wanted to go.

    Comment by Michael — August 27, 2009 @ 9:34 pm | Reply

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