Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy is exactly thirty years old. He is a robust politician. A happy face at a street-corner rally, Teddy Kennedy climbs on top of his high truck-mounted platform, and with his searchlights cutting the night sky as at a Hollywood première, he sings “Sweet Adeline” for the people. He likes people, people like him. In September, Teddy took 69 per cent of his party’s vote in the primary election in Massachusetts; we knew from the start he would win (how could he help it?) but never like that. Liston over Patterson. Eddie McCormack, his far more experienced and deserving opponent, is no longer a figure in our politics. It was a triumph so bludgeoning and immediate that the old anomic Irish party that spawned Teddy and his brothers and his grandfathers is dead. “The day of the old-goat politician,” a Kennedy Democrat said most assuredly, “is done.”
Into the void came a Juggernaut such as the ghosts of the Pilgrims have not before met with in old Massachusetts smothered in history. Now the Kennedys own the state (it can’t be said only that they control it) and Teddy is the youngest and biggest. Six feet two inches, he is The Candidate to beat and his publicity is beginning to sound like Paul Bunyan’s. The Ladies Home Journal quotes his enticing wife, Joan, saying that he has campaigned eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, for two years. Time has added half an inch to the size of his right hand, just from the handshaking.
In May when the White Citizens Council in Little Rock sent the first Reverse Freedom Rider to Hyannisport, Teddy Kennedy stood in front of the Family Compound and before his ineluctable audience of radio and television and newspaper photographers and shook hands with the nonplussed Negro. “Welcome to Massachusetts,” said Teddy, and in some uncharacteristically vulgar oratory he rung in Plymouth Rock and the state’s heritage as a haven for the oppressed and the persecuted; it went like that.
Besides being a human power plant with God-given talents as politician, Teddy is—name, face, and voice—the archangel movie star of the day. This has beguiled most of the working press in Massachusetts and in Washington, while the two big Boston newspapers, though Republican-owned, barely have whispered a word against Teddy, so nervous have they been about a television channel whose license in this election year had not yet, by the time of the convention, been renewed by the FCC, an agency of the Executive Branch. Teddy has all the money he will ever need as well as the connections, the White House telephone, the patronage, the psychic means of suasion: “How are ya? The President was asking about you.” No other man can entertain one audience with homey anecdotes of family life, then stoutly refuse to discuss his family before the next. “I don’t want to be the Kennedy Candidate. I ask you to make me the Democratic Candidate in November.” Teddy has an organization that has worked through the state for more than fifteen years, so effectively by now that it is a fantastic clam rake for scraping up the ardent voters. He has a new corps of husky men under forty, many of whom look like football players or were football players or still are at heart. College friends, friends from out West have come to “help Ted” in his personal entourage, and in the wards and Democratic clubs many more young men equally husky are “cleaning out the dead-wood.”
In Springfield, at the Democratic State Convention last June, it was a lesson to watch the Kennedy corps shepherding their faithful right up to the microphones. When a delegation was polled each member was required to declare himself before the television cameras. “Ted will be looking at you,” men were told, “and you know who else will be.” As if they didn’t know, a few old-timers succumbed to inebriation and would have missed the polling entirely but for the efficiency of the Kennedy workers patrolling the hotels and saloons. “Get those guys back here. Make them vote,” the order was from a young man in a shiny blue suit. In a few minutes the old guys were back in the auditorium like sheepish children and encouraged all the way to the microphone. “Awrighty Billy, let’s giver the go!”—“I cast my vote for TED KENNEDY!”—“That’sa boy Billy. Gawd bless ya.” That is the way to win, the art of the possible. Teddy Kennedy’s slogan is: He Can Do MORE For Massachusetts.
Maybe this was not politics at all; it seemed surrealistic, a stereophonic dream in Todd AO. All the talk about issues—the Great Issues and Corruption and Federal Aid to Parochial Schools—in the political reality, these things were meaningless. I wondered if there would be a high-sounding new word for it—metapolitics.
The thought came to me at the Kennedy press conference given the day before Teddy stormed the convention at Springfield. No member of the press foregathered on that refulgent June afternoon over the bowling alleys at the Schine Inn Motor Lodge, just up the turnpike from Springfield, was mean enough to deny that the Teddy Kennedys were a handsome pair. Joan, stunningly turned out in kelly green, a kelly green band through her hair, sat at the table, at her big, young husband’s side, and she may have been a bit scared, though it never showed as she smiled. If smiles are masks, Joan may have felt safe behind hers, for it is a thing of joy. It sets off the self-assured youth of her husband.
You’ve got to look good, the word comes down. Smile for them. Comb your hair. Look Good. Practical Politics—as distinguished from politics—means Public Spectacle, in every sense of the Victorian phrase. And if you want to win, you manipulate the Spectacle, you hypnotize. If you don’t want to win, or if you can’t, what’s the difference, either way you lose. You’re Adlai Stevenson. Who needs you? Who needs a loser? Professional Losers, like H. Stuart Hughes, Independent, the anti-cold war candidate, and Norman Thomas—who confuse politics with Practical Politics—are worse than Losers. They are Spoilers: by appealing to the “nut vote” they try to spoil it for a man who can win, and the Kennedys will have naught to do with Stuart Hughes and call his candidacy “frivolous.” Just to win this race and be the next United States Senator from Massachusetts will call for courage and endurance and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. And these are but the entry fee, because no matter how ugly you are, buddy boy, you’re going to have to Look Good.
It isn’t easy to promote a candidate as an image while protecting him from his failings as a man. To make a savage grab for power appear as an act of immolation takes a good head. “Massachusetts has been good to me. I have prospered. I owe a debt to our beloved state. I am no longer young, my friends. I ask you to help me pay this great moral debt while I still. . . .” These lines, it should be said, are not stolen from The Last Hurrah. The attentive listener can pick them up at most any Democratic political rally—the genius for poetic politics abounds in Massachusetts. “Is it a sin to be a Democrat? At Confession, do I say, ‘Forgive me, Father, for I am a member of the Democratic party’ ?”
A wise, old Republican, after many years in the Great and General Court of Massachusetts, has this opinion: “The Republicans have a few inhibitions left. I’m sad to say the Democrats have none.” The old and waning Yankee Protestant stock still controls the Republican minority, but after one hundred and twenty-odd years the Democrats control both legislative houses. These men descend almost all from immigrant Catholic workers chiefly of Irish, then Italian origins. Though they are constantly warring among themselves, in an election year these three blocs (Yankee, Irish, Italian) close ranks and vote along quite rigid “ethnic” lines which are, to be blunt, the residue of ancestral spite. Politics in Massachusetts, whatever its professions, has in practice always been the systematic organizing of hatreds; that is what Henry Adams thought, and in half a century little has occurred that would lead to mitigating his harsh opinion.
In such an atmosphere, debates on The Great Issues of the New Frontier amount to nothing, except as oratorical exercises and one-dimensional projections of the candidate’s Image. If he is aggressively to project his Image, there are some things the candidate must not see nor hear nor speak. These are attended to by others—by a corps of abstract faces not necessarily allied with his campaign. He may not know that they exist, still they serve him in spheres where nobody could Look Good. The deals, back-stabbings, threats, the seamy covenants and the plots in barrooms, the wild, only half-joking designs for larceny that held the ear of the eavesdropper. Who speaks for the candidate here? Somebody talks to the road commissioners, the bookmakers, the titans of the Legislature, the mayors, councilmen, judges, sheriffs, captains or police whose continuing prosperity depends on getting-with-the-Winner long before he wins. There must be some disembodied faces to help the campaign managers browbeat the delegations and dangle the patronage plum over several eager mouths at once; and more faces to assist the vexing nuances of graft—what pay-offs are “legitimate”; when is extortion a “valid political act”? Some faces may be called, for instance, a “Precinct Coordinator,” and it is for him, some affable and lion-hearted old knocker of the vanishing school, to keep tabs on old buddies who may have minor patronage jobs or less particular associations with, say, the skipper at the Stationhouse—or Fire House, Customs House, City Hospital, City Jail.
In the end the order slips down from petty crookedness into our munificent and highly esteemed Boston underworld. Puritan hoods are as generous to their friends in the Legislature as any in New Jersey or the West Coast and they rarely forget a face or a name. Like the Kennedys and the Adamses before the Kennedys and many prominent Bostonians, the efficient hoods stay away from the city for considerable parts of their lifetime and return to residences on brief visits when their profession requires. They are a truly peripatetic lot, our good hoods, forever switching from Miami to Vegas to Honolulu, to avoid embarrassing faithful police officials and squeamish D.A.’s, as well as State House appointees to our ephemeral, unutterably boring Crime Commissions and Vice Crusades. It can well be argued that the treasury could not afford to pay salaries to so many gangbusters if it weren’t for the inscrutable revenues which accrue from the industrialization of crime. Crime is made the public benefactor. Wheels turn within wheels within wheels in a grand, occult, positively Oriental design. The vision is hardly new. “. . . Boston has carried the practice of hypocrisy to the nth degree of refinement, grace, and failure,” Lincoln Steffens wrote. “New England is dying of hypocrisy.” But he wrote it in 1931, before either Joan or her juggernaut young husband were born. Lincoln Steffens died, New England died, and these are the children of dawn.
That beautiful June afternoon over the bowling alleys at the Schine Inn in Chicopee, in the lull before the press conference began, Joan was talking charmingly to the reporters. “We were in such a hurry—” she was saying. The Candidate held onto a table mike with both hands clenched, like Samson straining to bring the Temple down. Actually he was only listening to his wife talk. He made his shy grin, and nodded, slowly with sure charm. Then Joan smiled back at The Candidate while he was grinning at her. For an instant they seemed just too young to be Mr. and Mrs.; they belonged in a 30’s movie, a technicolor musical with a campus setting, holding hands on the 50-yard line, Mr. Touchdown grasping the football and she with something like a white wooly bunny rabbit under her arm.
“We were in such a hurry to get here,” Joan finished in haste, “you know what we did?” Her mouth made itself into a tiny moue. “We snuck through the back door and came through the kitchen!” she finished her comment. The reporters in front were wreathed in smiles. “She’s a cay-am-pay-nuh,” I heard a Boston newshen saying. “She’ll make a fine wife for the Senatuh.” The Candidate opened the press conference on a note of modest delight.
He was still a law student at the University of Virginia when they were married in 1958, so Charlottesville became their first home. But in 1960—the whole family was on the move that year—Joan and he went West—to Colorado, Wyoming, all those places where he worked like a wild man, recruiting. (“Hello, how are ya?” “Good to see ya.” “Glad you could come.”) The Western life was so agreeable they nearly settled in California, only they didn’t. They turned around and came all the way back to—of all places—Boston. In Ward 5, the Bluestocking Ward, they bought one of those thoroughly renovated, old-looking, Brahmin-type houses and began to raise babies.
Wild horses couldn’t hold him back from serving Massachusetts, the old home state. For a dollar a year he worked in Boston as Assistant District Attorney under the District Attorney of Suffolk County, whose son was lucky enough to have a Washington job with the Attorney General of the United States. Pretty soon a group of older men in Ward 5 invited him to join the reform organization (called COD) they had founded with a view to clearing the Jukes element out of Democratic politics. Well, he was reluctant. The American Cancer Crusade, the Health and Fitness Fair, his reports on the European Common Market, on top of his official duties, kept him on the go. Besides he had a terrific out-of-state schedule of Official and Semi-Official Fact-Finding Trips. To Africa for the President, to South America at Cardinal Cushing’s suggestion. And County Wexford, Ireland, Poland, France, and other critical European areas and the turbulent Middle East, and Israel, of course, and to the West Berlin powder keg for a profound gaze at the Wall. Between trips he was available to travel anywhere in the state to meet groups of any size and tell about the facts he’d found. Sometimes Joan was able to travel with him.
Another loyal Massachusetts Democrat, of a very different stripe from the Kennedys, is former State Representative Pasquale Caggiano of the city of Lynn, by profession an undertaker. Even as Joan and Teddy smiled at the reporters in the Schine Inn, this old warrior was already moving into Springfield a few miles down the Pike, asking delegates to get with him. Former Representative Pasquale Caggiano wanted to be Lieutenant Governor—wanted it so badly that when by midsummer he saw his last hopes go aglimmering, he nearly sabotaged the ticket. In the tired Parker House, across the street from the grave of Paul Revere, he called a “press conference” and there announced that a “substantial amount” of money had been offered him, along with “any position I desire in this Commonwealth” if he would withdraw his candidacy. “If pressure and sordid attempts to buy me off continue, I shall be forced to publicize the names of those who wish to deprive the people of their basic freedom—that of choice.” The Republicans demanded a full investigation and the Democrats, in a lather, had to take their maverick in hand. Even so they were a long time getting him, he being “under advice of counsel,” to specify his charges. “My honor has no price tag,” said former Representative Pasquale Caggiano; now that the old Parker House is by way of being a politicians’ haunt, the lobbies echo with brave avowals. The Boston Herald printed a photograph which shows a determined man of middle years; his jowls and chins, his rotund outline, are like King Farouk’s; he wears rimless eyeglasses set in a frame of two-tone plastic and his right index finger supports a cigar like a giant wiener. Pasquale Caggiano, undertaker, of the city of Lynn, is only one of many faces whose destinies must ride with The Candidate.
Long before the Schine Inn press conference, I had ventured into the State Legislature where Caggiano used to serve in our capital city of Boston. A hasty visit nowadays can smite a tender heart with terrors. On the crest of Beacon Hill, where John Hancock’s pastures were before the earth itself got carted off by his venal heirs in a deal of Federalist Urban Renewal, Charles Bulfinch’s noble building stands beneath the great gilt dome. State Senate President John E. Powers, a persuasive man passionately concerned with the tarnished honor of our government, said, “John, for the love of God write something good about Massachusetts.” Last May Senator Powers told of having seen in front of the State House a Yankee Protestant clergyman mounted upon two large white cubes painted with black dots to look like dice. Some photographers were squatting, aiming their lenses upward at the minister for angle shots of the Yankee crusader. He was, it seemed, the author of yet another puritanic on corrupt government in Massachusetts, to be illustrated by dramatic color photos in a great weekly magazine. Standing on the giant dice, his somber head and shoulders loomed against the gold dome that Bulfinch built, when Daniel Webster was alive, and William Ellery Channing, and our city was the Athens of America.
Damon Runyon—or Bertholt Brecht—should have lived to tell the tales of our boozy crapshooting time. Last winter, Governor Volpe fired the custodian of the State House archives, a former legislator who watched over the scrolls and parchments of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, because he had been making book. This engaging archivist had the honesty to plead that to persecute him was hyprocisy, since he had taken bets for Democrats and Republicans.
The man’s mistake was getting caught and abandoning the venerable objects, among which subsequently a twenty-two-year-old woman swore that a uniformed officer of our Capitol police force had raped her. The squeamish visitor does well to shun the archives, and to walk with busloads of nuns and schoolchildren through the marble halls upstairs. The Colonial trappings and the Great Mace of the Commonwealth are preserved with the Governors’ lances; and the regimental standards dating upward from the War of Independence are cased in glass in the Hall of Flags, where they waked James Michael Curley. On the floor above the Great and General Court convenes. It is one of the oldest legislative bodies in the world.
This Legislature in joint session was reminded, shortly before his inauguration, by President-elect Kennedy, a historian, of Governor John Winthrop’s discourse to his fellow immigrants aboard the “Arbella” in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”
Very nice, and hear John Winthrop, in his last years, addressing this very Legislature on the natural liberty (i.e. corrupt nature) of man when not restrained by civil authority: “The exercise . . . of this liberty makes men grow more evil and in time to be worse than brute beasts. . . . This is that great enemy, that wild beast, which all the ordinances of God are bent against to restrain and subdue it.”
John Winthrop was a Puritan and he died in 1649. In the Great and General Court voices have since been raised that would have him a Yankee pirate and a hypocrite who didn’t mean a word of it. “We are a government of men and not of laws,” certain of our lawmakers have said. To his eternal credit, Cardinal Cushing has set the great conscience of his office against these men. “. . , individuals who poison politics with . . . corruption. . . . These are genuine subversives who turn to wickedness the good order of society,” the Cardinal said in a pastoral letter that would have pleased John Winthrop. When the Cardinal speaks, the Legislature hears him—which is not to say it listens very hard.
A session of the House of Representatives blurs into fantasia on a hot summer afternoon. The great oval chamber where the President-elect spoke is not quite real. The cornice overhead is inscribed all round with the hagiocracy of grand old names—Edwards, Parkman, Endicott, Garrison, Pickering—and the galleries are dull in a sooty light from the vaulted stained glass ceiling. The galleries themselves are strange, being partitioned for Men and Women: a segregation of the sexes that you’d associate with synagogues and mosques. Curving behind the Speaker’s platform are the five heroic panels of the mural that Christian Herter’s father painted: “Milestones on the Road to Freedom in Massachusetts.” Smoking is prohibited, the ventilation is poor; the air is heavy, musty like the attic of an old house. A moiety of the State Representatives have hot-weather head colds or low-grade sinusitis so that the haggling, the snarling and whining sounds which arise from the floor are punctuated with nose-blowing. An infectious Dorchester accent (Dow-Aches-tuh) demands higher salaries for women teachers through layers of catarrh; the experience is drugging. Speaker of the House John F. Thompson, “The Iron Duke,” is banging the gavel down on a sneaky Yankee Republican attempt to deny the appropriation of public monies for the public welfare. John Thompson will not tolerate the implication that Democrats are thieves. He is a very big man, he speaks out with a roar: “You have got to understand that the Republicans steal through the medium of legislation.” Representative Caggiano, the undertaker, used to be down there on the floor, among the hundreds of faces, the vigorous flushed Irish and thwarted Yankee stock turning mean or dotty under their load. They are debating amendments to the new code of Ethics. Observing the wondrous comedy, too innocent a mind is smashed between the hope and the fact, and has a sense of the soul’s collapse and unaccountable frustration. In Asia there are ancient lands where moralities are not absolute, and mendacity and decay partake of the substance of culture. Rot gives fermentation and new life; so on through the generations until substance and energy are themselves produced of rot. Compare it to an obvious process of bacteriology, a thousand-year-old egg or a ripe Stilton cheese. We shall require ways to overcome that hallucination, and we have Joan.
Not Joan herself, the intelligent, warm, perhaps diffident young woman she privately is. I mean the public Joan who is a creation of the Campaign (“She’s a gold mine!” an old pol told me) and prey to foolish labels like Green Jackie. Green is Boston newspaperese for Irish Catholic: a Democratic ticket that lacks at least one Italian or Jewish name is called All Green, or Too Green. The stylish Kennedy family are called The Green Brahmins, the Green Adamses. Jacqueline Kennedy is Roman Catholic, but she isn’t Irish, so she can’t be Green: she’s Blue, like the blue-blood Lodges. As an old pol told me, Joan was green as they come; so that would make her the Green Jackie.
She was swathed in green. The dress and the band in her hair had the green of the shamrock and of the big signs along the Massachusetts Turnpike, the Mystic River Bridge, the Storrow Drive, the John F. Fitzgerald Memorial Drive, and for sure the Lt. William F. Callahan Jr. Memorial Tunnel—the many-million-dollar complex of ever-collapsing, constantly renovated public works projects which have been a vital force in state politics; something of that was in the rich green folds of her skirt. On her left at the table, talking pleasantly into the microphone, his elegant charcoal suit setting off a necktie of the identical green, was The Candidate.
A young practical politician who has served in the State House said, “I didn’t say I’m for Teddy. But to be against the Kennedys in this state, that’s suicide. . . . You want to know the smart thinking in this town? Teddy gets elected and we don’t see him until ’64. Then he comes back to get elected and he’s gone again for the six-year term. Then maybe he’ll be grown up a little and shoot for the moon. What I’m saying to you is these are Kennedys. Period.”
So much political expertise is available this summer that it is not necessary to solicit it. A man will stop you on the street to volunteer his robust opinion.
“If the three Kennedy brothers were on a raft in the middle of the ocean and the raft turned over, who would be saved? Answer—the country!” That is a Roosevelt joke, warmed over; it came with a nasty smirk from a retired Yankee businessman, an unreconstructed FDR-hater of whom there are considerable in these parts. From the grim Republican position the shadows fell long and dark: we were hedging in Laos, conceding at Geneva, and the President was losing his temper at businessmen, ruining the market out of spite. Now he was trying to force down the country’s throat his brand of socialized medicine. “I call it Kennedi-care, it takes care of the Kennedys, but who’s going to take care of us?” No shadows were falling on the Schine Inn; no Republican cracking New York Herald Tribune jokes, and yet—
Two or three reporters from out of state started to put some pointed questions. Teddy was unruffled and a bit jovial with them. For a minute there, he’d thought that Mr. Mazo was in the room. This brought an appreciative laugh, since Earl Mazo, the admiring biographer of Richard Nixon, had already asked The Candidate some of these questions back in March on the NBC-TV Program, “Meet the Press”:
Mr. Mazo: Will the Democratic party be harmed this year by these scandals?
Mr. Kennedy. I think the question of whether individuals who have come up, who have been indicted have been Democrats, I think, is irrelevant really. Any more than you can say that because certain of these people belong to a certain racial group or religious group, are from a certain city or town, they are necessarily all evil. I think the question of corruption is something that any individual has to be extremely conscious about and do everything he possibly can to rid the state of corruption, and it is for this very reason that I am interested as well.
In any transcript of the Schine Inn Press conference, much of the rhetoric will read this way. Sometimes the replies came softly and sounded honestly shy, and at others they bodied forth like a response to a challenge. When The Candidate speaks out on the Great Issues, he gives a performance like an athletic event, and your attention is lost in the gymnastic bond-rally style that he practiced back at Harvard in a public speaking course called English N. I had trouble bearing with him through a single clause. Was this what the reporters call “fudging an answer”? Was this what the old pols call “not opening a kisser”?
I believe he said: “I have heard a good many of these allegations. Like you gentlemen, I am anxious to get to the bottom of these charges. But so far I’ve seen no proof,”—something of that sort.
The allegations, as usual, charged excessive “pressure” on delegates, the threats and bribes and general sordidness which is the business of the faces operating behind a candidate’s back. And true to the old political tradition of Massachusetts, Teddy Kennedy was only saying: Prove It. If it is a maxim that he who makes charges and does not prove them stands naked and exposed, there is also a corollary that he who proves his charges too readily will get torn limb from limb. There is a plague on Massachusetts of rumors and counter-rumors, of scandal and malignant gossip (“a vote for Peabody is a vote for birth control”) all so manipulated that you hardly dare say what you know for fear of hurting somebody. I had not learned this danger, to which in a moment my exasperation would betray me.
“Yes, that’s another of these allegations. I am as anxious as you gentlemen to get to the bottom of this. But we have no proof of it” I believe The Candidate was saying.
After three or four of these replies, a petty question in the back of my mind grew so imperative that I raised my hand. The Candidate acknowledged me.
“What about———?” I had a man’s name on my tongue, but I couldn’t speak. The Candidate turned his solid, young face in my direction and the Gene Tunney shoulders came forward into the lights, the glistening head of hair cocked to one side.
“I shall name no names,” I declared in preamble; so from the start I’d made it impossible to say what I meant. I began to speak in strange, elliptic phrases, slithering around the point; I realized how my impulsiveness could bring trouble on a man who really didn’t deserve it.
The substance of my question, which I couldn’t really ask him now, was this:
Among the delegates of the small Yankee city of ———, six of the nine were committed, I happened to know, to the Kennedys. It was possible that a seventh vote, and possibly a unanimous delegation, depended on the pleasure of the senior member. That loyal old Democratic worker, whose name I could not say, had a young relative who needed a job in the Post Office—a job with the United States government which would not be forthcoming unless, since the young man’s driver’s license had once, very briefly, been suspended, a minor civil service regulation were overruled. I intended to ask The Candidate what he had to say about this matter. Who in our state politics was better situated to grant this favor than The Candidate who campaigned under the slogan “He Can Do MORE for Massachusetts” and was the younger brother of the President of the United States? I wanted to ask what he had to say about that.
Deals like this, which are the job of the faces, are not rightly called patronage; they are not legal either and in an election year, a lot of moral indignation—most of it oratory—is wasted against them. These little deals are inevitable in any state; and in a state that commences to dwarf the legends of the Wild West, that can boast of the greatest highway robbery—literally—in American history, and whose civic virtue evokes the Louisiana of the Longs, they become monotonous peccadilloes. They are not worth mentioning except to hurt an opponent who may not have time to dig up something worse on you. I like to think that when I raised the trivial matter of ———, in me lay some wistful hope that The Candidate would find a way to relieve himself and me, and—in an impossibly poetic sense—the body politic, of some fraction of the sham that is smothering us together. Out of his rumbumptious good nature, maybe he could answer me: “LOOKIT, WERE YOU BORN YESTERDAY? What’s a lousy Post Office job? Sure it stinks, but can I help it what they do? This thing is like an ocean in hell, and you’re in it with us. . . .” If Teddy, if any candidate, would answer that way, he’d have my vote. He could escape to Washington and I’d wish him all the luck—old buddy, buddy.
But all I could see was The Candidate watching me as though to say, What are you getting at, what have you got? Maybe I had half finished speaking when he understood and I saw my point score on his open countenance. I haven’t the right to guess another man’s feelings in one moment long lost in the annals of public relations, but to me Teddy looked pained and aghast, a clean boxer caught in the groin by a vile toe. He fastened me in a blue and heavy-lidded stare, and—with his mouth partly open—he began to nod in the negative well before I reached the end of my aborted, meandering question which had got to sound like a spurious chapter of Henry James.
“That is another of these allegations,” I suppose he said. “We’ve had no proof of that.” Of course they had no proof, nor would they, last of all from me. Yet a question had been raised at a press conference and with it my career in political journalism mercifully was ended.
Why did I do it? I thought right away; it seemed horrid to have embarrassed him.
“What do you want? He’s young, he hasn’t had the experience,” one of Teddy’s passionate defenders argued, startlingly ingenuous. “You don’t know what he has to take in this campaign. Every last dirty thing they have they throw at Ted, but he’s got guts, he’s a guy.” There was no dispute of it. Once back in 1960, on a moment’s notice and with absolutely no experience, Teddy Kennedy jumped off an enormous bone-crushing ski-jump just to help his brother win the Wisconsin primary. In Redbook magazine I had seen a delightful quote from Teddy’s sisters: “He’s got no complexes, if that’s what you mean.”
These men are very bold, very serious, all for one—one for all; they are a tribal force, lineal and collateral. They revere the particular and shun the abstraction, and they have hard minds conditioned to a perpetual skepticism and rarely to an open doubt.
When you are contending with the bold innocence of a Kennedy, the temptation is formidable to recant. I wanted to walk up to The Candidate, shake the big hand and apologize, but it would not have worked. His innocent pained look when he got the sense of my question—How come you kicked me like that?—had killed some innocence in me.
The bold innocence of Teddy is something like a miracle. On the Boston Common, where the Shawmut Indians ran, and the child Emerson rolled his hoop, old sleeping bums crawl from under the newspapers when Teddy walks past. For a smile and a handshake they will waddle after him all the way across the top of Boston’s brand-new, bankrupt, underground garage, whose six politican managers will be tried soon for a three-quarters of a million larceny, and follow the oriflame of youth along Tremont Street where the Kennedy-for-Senator building stands with a red, white, and blue marquee like a movie house.
Teddy Kennedy working a crowd is a great show. He stops being Teddy and transmogrifies into a natural, a virtuoso, with Nijinsky and Willy Mays. In a plain and very elegant gray suit he marched, a millionaire at twenty-one, through the slums of Charlestown, hardly a mile away from where his great-grandfather Kennedy settled. He moved under a blazing sun in the Bunker Hill Day parade, through the Oriental odors of sewage and decay rising off the streets and tenements here and about the oldest corner of Immigrant Boston. Gas lamps on the street corners. Sitting on newspapers spread along the curb, the old women watched the archangel movie star with their chins in their hands. “It’s Kennedy. Ah Jesus, see him.” Teddy went charging like a fullback into the sidewalks thick with votes. His face was pink, he sweated through his shirt of drip-dry nylon. The children held onto him so tight that he would be carrying three or four of them sometimes, wading through them on stiff knees. He worked the saloons, the variety stores, parked cars, tenement stoops, he grabbed babies and autographed for teen-agers and shook hands. “How are ya? I’m Ted Kennedy and I need your help.”
When the press conference ended, everybody hurried down the turnpike to Springfield. The city had been acquired by the Kennedys. He Can Do MORE For Massachusetts. A fleet of Avis cars proclaimed the candidate in iridescent letters on their roofs and bumpers. “The Kennedy Girls,” a decorative troupe of volunteers, in blue skirts, red sashes, red KENNEDY hats, they adorned the hotel steps, and the Elks Band played and The Candidate, lifted upon an Avis car, guaranteed them victory, victory, victory.
Teddy was absolutely right. A narcosis, a particular blend of charm and fear, had been put abroad and the Convention was over before it began. It was as though every presiding officer, from the Chairman of the Convention to the chairman of the least subcommittee on procedures, were a Kennedy man; as though every committee were stacked for the Kennedys. “What kind of politician would a man be if he didn’t have his committees stacked?” an unwholesome local pundit said from long experience of these affairs. This cynic was not, I’m bound to say, among those judiciously selected correspondents to whom The Candidate’s brother-in-law, Stevie Smith, had shown, rather confidentially, his unofficial forecast of the delegate vote—overwhelmingly for Teddy. By this efficient tactic—reporters say it was most effective at the San Francisco Convention in 1960—the assumption of victory was planted well before the fact in influential out-of-state newspapers. Hours before Teddy’s name was placed in nomination the veteran correspondent of the Chicago Sun-Times stood up in the upstairs bar of the Sheraton-Kimball and told his colleagues that he was going to file for the early edition his story of the Teddy landslide. He was perfectly bland about it. “I guess I’ll drop the bomb,” he said. Except the bomb had been dropped long back.
The best-informed judgment I had heard was that the word had come down last autumn: if the boy is going to run, he has to win. We can’t afford to lose this.
There is a passage in Hilaire Belloc’s “Cautionary Tales for Children”:
We had intended you to be
The next Prime Minister but three.
The stocks were sold; the press was squared.
The middle class was quite prepared.
“I’m worried about you,” a friend was steadily telling me over the Convention days. “You complain about a power play by the Kennedys. Do you think the McCormacks are lily white?” He was a well-placed and capable Washington correspondent, well qualified to upbraid my naivety. For me he became the echo and the paraphrase of a hundred anxious voices that rose as one, last summer, off the New Frontier. “The President is having a bad, bad time with Congress, and he needs every vote he can get. Do you realize the cultural lag he’s fighting?—those old goats who can’t get together on who’s senior to who? . . . How is the country going to get out of this paralysis if the President can’t get the dynamic support he needs? Get it through your head—politics is not a simple-minded business. There is no Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington,” the echo said. “Teddy wants to start his career as high as he can get. He has a perfect right to run, because he can win. Any man has a right to run if he can win. It’s never the virtue of the situation, it’s the mechanics.”
When would I get it through my head? Mechanics. Wandering through the surrealistic boozy night in Springfield, I was considerably depressed. And worse, I’d learned that my unfortunate question had only hurt the delegate whom I had carefully not named. I hadn’t thought that a veiled reference at a press conference would be manufactured into “news,” or that this man would be named and publicly humiliated in a vicious anti-Kennedy newspaper. In this mood I was accosted by two of the finest, most disarming of Teddy Kennedy’s thoroughly likable staff. They were fatigued but, not without reason, jubilant. Eddie Martin, who is bar none the best press secretary of any candidate around, swatted me on the shoulder. “Say, Jawn, you threw him a ringer at the press conference. The inside stuff. Hey that was O.K.” Swat again.
Next it was the Cousin. The fetching young wife of another of Honey Fitz’s grandsons. She had said before the press conference, “Write pretty things about us now.” Friendly as ever this time she teased me: “Say Jawn, what kind of question was that to ask my favorite candidate?”
“Oh Your Candidate!” I believe I startled Sally Fitzgerald. The wail went out of me in the hot night air, and relieved of a certain frustration, I was able to go to bed.
Stop Teddy, Stop Teddy, the crickets sing from Cape Cod to the Berkshires. Kennedys, Kennedys, the gall of the Kennedys, the Republicans say, they won’t get away with this one. The Candidate heeds the sounds not at all. “Saddle up, Joansie!” Teddy tells Joan, in the Ladies Home Journal. “We’ve got a two o’clock tea at Lowell . . . another one at four . . . a banquet in Boston. . . .” And clambakes, Communion breakfasts, he’s storming the state. “How are ya? Glad to see ya. Have you met Joan?” “I’m awfully pleased to know you,” says Joan.
On a late August night I had a glimpse of her, in the auditorium of the South Boston High School, where we were listening to a kind of debate. Green Jackie sat in the fifth row, beside Sally Fitzgerald, and I watched her tan face as Eddie McCormack, in real Southie style, said hard words to her husband. “You nevah worked for a living. You nevah held elective ahfis. . . . If your name were Edward Moowah (Moore) your candidacy would be a joke. Nobody’s laughing. Your name is Edward Moowah Kennedy.” She was yet more lovely than at the Schine Inn and her chin tipped up slightly to show the ineffable mold of her cheeks. A faint tightening in her mouth when she heard Eddie, but otherwise nothing. Her husband sat stiff on the debater’s stool, his hands clasped. Teddy gazed into the TV cameras like a cadet braced for a hazing. He would not take the bait. When his ordeal was ended, droves of mothers and daughters in the television audience had switched from Eddie, the street fighter, to Teddy, the gentleman. It is widely held that McCormack’s attack was a disastrous boomerang and The Candidate, with everything else, had won the sympathy vote.
He Can Do MORE For Massachusetts . . .
These are some events of last summer, about which nobody was able to do very much:
a. On the same afternoon that Joan, Teddy, and the reporters were foregathered at the Schine Inn in Chicopee, back in Boston there was an episode in the Archives section of the State House.
First let us consider the setting. Here are some of the things that are kept in the Archives.
The original Act against Witchcraft passed in Salem, in 1681.
The Act of Atonement for the Trial, Conviction and Execution of Anne Pudeator and Certain Other Persons for Witchcraft—passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1957, Michael N. Skerry, Speaker.
The remains of the Great Seal of England that was on the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Parchment of Treaty with Penobscot Indians: 1752.
Law decreeing 100-pound bounty on Indian scalps, signed by William Dudley, 1724.
Musket used by Major John Buttrick at North Bridge, Concord. April 19, 1775.
The Original Constitution of Massachusetts, Oldest Constitution in the World.
These are kept in the basement floor, near the Archives office, where that golden afternoon, on top of a desk the twenty-two-year-old secretary gave carnal satisfaction to the officer of our Capitol police. He was afterward cleared of her flimsy rape charge which a municipal court judge did not believe.
b. Former Representative Caggiano of Lynn, the undertaker whose honor wears no price tag, lost his last chance to be Lieutenant Governor. The State Ballot Commission ruled that 137 signatures on his nominating papers were forged.
c. Since the Great and General Court adjourned in July, the State House has been rather empty of legislators. Some teen-agers with summer jobs were playing loud rock ‘n roll music in the corridors but the Capitol police put a stop to that. In the great heat, office windows are left open, permitting the Beacon Hill pigeons to wheel through the halls. To discourage the birds, it has been necessary to coat the window-sills with a white gooey substance, according to the Boston Herald.
d. There is a strangler loose in the city, an authentic sex pervert, who is likened to Jack the Ripper. Since the day of the Schine Inn Press Conference, six old ladies have been choked to death with towels and silk stockings. A recent corpse was found in an apartment on back of Beacon Hill, a short distance from the State House.
Calamity and decay have seldom been so thick as this summer, nor the season so menacing as over the Boston Common on a hot day. The old bums are flopped on the park grass and pigeons fly through the State House. One afternoon I was going to burst if I did not escape from Boston. Heading for the seashore, I came up joyfully from the bowels of our new larcenied, bankrupt underground garage in a skyblue sports car, an Austin-Healy, 3.000, that had a Motorola radio which came on with the ignition. The twin exhausts roaring against the cement, the car mounted the ramp into the sunlight where the great gold dome shone on top of the Hill.
There was a religious program on my Motorola. Rising and falling on Boston, the words of a radio priest:
Now that your summer vacation plans are taking shape I don’t want to hear any of you come around whining, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to break my no-vee-na’ as if it were a toy of some kind. . . . No, when you’re on vacation remember to take your little book and tune in on our novena broadcast. . . . The summer novena in my opinion is the most important of all novenas . . . in the summer we live in the time of greatest dangers and moral perils. . . .
I took the words to my heart. I had to clutch for an illusion and there seemed to be nothing at all till, like Aphrodite from the myths, Green Jackie slipped into my mind. I saw her as she had been in the great acclamation of Springfield, after McCormack conceded, when standing at The Candidate’s side, hemmed round by raddled and venal faces, Joan Kennedy stretched out a hand to thank the Convention. “We want to thank you wonderful people,” she told them. “And I know we’ll be seeing you again and again and again.”