Where I can discuss the news of the day.
Senator Kennedy's passing is the news of the day. The outpouring of regard by the President and Vice President, along with his fellow Senators and those families whose lives he touched directly, has been moving. The Vice President's remarks this morning were especially so I thought.
When my mother was disabled following her back surgeries it was Senator Kennedy's office that was the most helpful. While Congressman Studds office got the ball rolling for her, it was only when the Senator's office got on the case that she got the attention she needed and the result she wanted.
My family has always been Kennedy supporters. My first tie clip was a PT 109. I believe that my grandfather cast an electoral college vote for President Kennedy. I have a Robert Kennedy campaign poster in my classroom. I have read a great deal about the family, including a terrific little book about Honey Fitz. I have read and studied this family as a story of shifting unifying political ideas in the 20th century. Local concerns became national concerns became international concerns within 3 generations. Only Teddy Roosevelt's political arc can be compared to it.
I attended the Senator's announcement for the Presidency in 1980. There was an article a number of years ago now in the Sunday Globe magazine in which I can be seen along the barricade as the Senator walked in. I was 19 and studying political science. The possibilities for government were very much on my mind and I was looking to hear what the Senator thought they were. President Carter had said the country was suffering from malaise but had not offered a course of action for the community as much as he had for individuals. Candidate Reagan would take the position that there was a substantially limited government response needed and that no malaise exisited. It was the return to a long standing public debate in American life. The Senator's role taught me a lot.
My friend Peggy Rice had an encounter with the Senator in the days when his behavior was suspect. She had been invited to a party at Hyannis Port as her husband Peter had a relative that was marrying RFK's son. She sent me a memorable postcard in which she described the fading condition of the Kennedy Matriarch Rose (I describe it here with massive understatement) and how she had to dance with the Senator. "It was gross." was the memorable end to the card.
My curiosity about the Senator always extended to why he served. He was the heir to considerable wealth, had noticeable appetites, and was subject to unrelenting criticism each and every day of his life. He could have taken his ball and gone home. I have never understood what he got from the positions he took or his willingness to stand in the political arena as a punch line. He would have been every bit as much a Kennedy had he not held office. He would have been his brothers brother as a private citizen. The place that John Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy have had in the public sphere proves the case for me. Even the place that Joe Kennedy and Robert Kennedy Jr. have had proves it for me. He could have had all the perks and far less of the grief had he left office at any point. I always wondered why he didn't and often wished he would for his own sake. The trial of William Kennedy Smith was a very ugly episode and I wished then that he would just call it a day and go sailing.
The issue of who will win that seat looms. I will have to teach it now, along side teaching the ascension of Justice Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Political Science 101 taught that the succession crisis was the most dangerous in any regime. It will be fascinating to watch the potential candidates raise their funds, stake out their positions, and bargain among themselves over issues like possible debates and formats. I would think the announcements would begin as soon as September 11. The war will not be the biggest factor in the race but the anniversary of the terrorist attacts is a date that could be used as a break from the mourning that will have to last at least two weeks. Two weeks from today is September 9th.
A primary will likely be held in late November or early December. By law (unless it is changed and I believe the change could be challenged as an ex post facto law) the general election has to be held by the first week in February. A late November election allows for an 8 week campaign season interupted by Christmas and New Years. That seems a reasonable period of time for any candidate to introduce and advance his or her record to the whole state. I hope that it works out that way.
The passing of a public figure whose family has been part of the political fabric of Massachusetts for more than 100 years is destined to be an occasion for hyperbole. I won't add to it. I will look forward instead for materials to surface that lets us tell a bona fide historical story based on a record. There is currently a historian named David Nawsaw who is working on a biography of Joseph Kennedy Sr. He was said to be given total access to a wide range of previously unavailable materials. With the passing of the Senator and recently of his sister Eunice Shriver, there is only Jean Kennedy Smith to approve or reject the result of Mr. Nawsaw. We have the chance that a reformulation of the Kennedy family and its place in American life will emerge from his scholarship. For me that is the next stop in what has been a life time study.