We live in an age of holograms, when image and myth seem to be all that matter. For years Ted Kennedy had become something of a joke. Literally.
I think it was around the time of Lloyd Bentson’s famous put-down of Dan Quayle in a debate between the vice presidential candidates during the 1988 campaign. (A moment which, by the way, was so seminal that it still resonated years later, in a review of the sequel to the film “Anaconda” that went something like: “I’ve seen ‘Anaconda.’ Senator, you’re no ‘Anaconda.'”
In the Ted Kennedy joke, Washington insiders are discussing potential candidates. “He reminds me of Jack Kennedy” got thrown around so much that finally someone was challenged: “Is there anyone in this town who doesn’t remind you of Jack Kennedy?” “Yes,” he replied. “Ted Kennedy.”
At the time, Kennedy had begun to have that bloated look, and the baggage of his personal and legal troubles obscured the man in shadow.
As a Texan not predisposed to buy into the Camelot metanarrative, I did not see the real Ted Kennedy until an anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s death. On TV I watched a 35-year-old Ted Kennedy deliver one of the most sincere, eloquent eulogies I’d ever heard.
I realized I’d seen Ted Kennedy through a warped lens for as long as I could remember. From then on, when I caught clips of his speeches on the Senate floor, he was the 1968 Ted Kennedy.
I saw the statesman, not the caricature the press and pundits had made of him. I saw his legacy. I saw what he himself saw in his brother – a man who “saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”
[originally published by Politics Daily in 2009]