There will be acres of prose eulogising Ted Kennedy today and many playings of his two most famous speeches: at his brother Robert’s funeral; and when ceding the Democratic presidential nomination to the incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980. (Even if Kennedy had won that primary, the consensus has always been that Ronald Reagan would still have triumped)
More…What prevented Kennedy from becoming President? Did the fatal incident (and his inglorious role) in Chappaquidick in 1969 ruin his prospects for all time? Somebody described him this morning as a person with huge talent but also with flaws? But his brothers, we found out posthumously, also had the same flaws, and JFK in particular was a serial womaniser. Did Ted Kennedy’s coming of age politically coincide with a new era where the private lives of politicians were no longer off limit?
Or could he have overcome that? Was it just that synchronicity wasn’t on his side? Was he a little too young in 1976 or was he wrong by not going forward then? And did he make a major tactical mistake by going for the 1980 nomination, and not biding his time for another four or eight years (when he would have been in his 1950s). I’m sure there have been may, but I can’t remember a same-party rival ousting an incumbent President at a primary in recent history.
Or was it a deeper issue. For such a confident man from such a self-confident dynasty, maybe he lacked the confidence to believe that he could carry America in the way that his two brothers had… that the youngest Kennedy brother had got lesser rations of his family’s political magic.
He remains a colossus. Nine-time senator over 47 years. Chairman of the most influential committees in the Senate. A huge ally and friend of Ireland. A great orator. An unflinching champion of liberal causes throughout his career. A great speechmaker. His political instincts were evident when he backed Barack Obama in the Democratic primary, infuriating the Clintons, to whom he had always been politically close.
I’ve always loved his closing lines from his barnstorming speech in the 1980 Convention, just because of the hope and optimism it expresses at the moment when defeat is finally acknowledged.
“For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”