Teddy's Pleasure

“You really enjoy campaigning, don’t you?”   

Teddy Kennedy considered the question. He was sitting in the front seat of his black Chevy, nibbling on a pastry that a constituent had given him. The car was speeding out of the city toward the North Shore, carrying Kennedy to the third of six appearances he would make on this sunny November day.

“No, not really,” he answered finally. “No, I wouldn’t say that.”  

“But you’re very good at it,” I said.  

“Well, I try to do everything well,” Kennedy replied laconically.   

As the Chevrolet moved northward, Kennedy made sporadic conversation, ate, studied papers, and smoked a large, odiferous cigar. When he talked, it was in the even, dispassionate phrases of a businesslike man taking care of business.   

The car turned into the parking lot of St. John’s Church in Peabody. A band of local dignitaries, led by their monsignor, the feisty ex–state representative Mimie Pitaro, stood before the door, waiting to greet the senator.   

Kennedy emerged from the car with a broad grin on his face, buttoning his suit coat with one hand and waving with the other.   

“Come on over and say hello,” he shouted, smiling radiantly to the band of onlookers. In seconds, he was mobbed. And he loved it. 

“Nice to see you! Good to see you!” he repeated as he worked the crowd, the smile now stuck on his face. He moved slowly. No one, it seemed, would be satisfied without a smile and a handshake, a personal greeting from this last of the Kennedy brothers.

More than a thousand people turned out, on short notice, in the middle of a work day, for this chance to see Teddy. The occasion was a campaign rally for Nick Mavroules, the popular mayor of Peabody who would a little later that month be elected to Congress. The attraction was clearly the senator, however, not the candidate.   

“Ooooohhhh, will you look at him!” a woman of many years squealed with the fervor of a Beatlemaniac, as Kennedy made his way through the parking lot and into the hall.

“Shake the hand of the man who just shook the hand of the next President of the United States,” a wizened old man beamed, dancing a spirited jig around his friends.   

When, with some effort, Kennedy reached the stage, he realized at once that a mistake had been made. Only two chairs were set up there, one for Kennedy and one for Mavroules. A fundamental rule of politics had been breached, and Kennedy set about to correct the error.

“We’re not getting this rally going,” he shouted to the audience, “until Mrs. Mavroules comes up and joins us.”   

As the crowd cheered, a covey of aides and onlookers scurried to hand folding chairs up to the stage for the rest of the Mavroules family to sit on. Kennedy himself led the applause as Mrs. Mavroules walked up the steps. A lifetime in politics had taught him that a good politician must exploit every opportunity to show himself as a family man.   

Once the stage protocol was ironed out, Kennedy launched into a stem-winder of an oration, praising “this really outstanding mayor of a great and proud city, who has brought you many programs that have helped Peabody… He has brought you scholarships to help young people to get educated. He has tried to help small businessmen, help them get established. He cares very deeply about senior citizens.” The audience loved it—not knowing or caring that Kennedy repeats this litany of glory for almost every candidate he endorses.   

He spoke at the top of his lungs, in a voice that would have made a lesser man hoarse. The spectators erupted in a frenzy of clapping when he adjured them to “do the people of this Congressional district a favor and send Nick Mavroules to the Congress of the United States.”   

The smile grew even deeper and broader as the hall dissolved in cascades of cheers. In a finale that the press would have roundly satirized if, say, George Wallace or Richard Nixon had arranged it, Kennedy led a foot-stomping, gut-busting, arm-waving rendition of “God Bless America,” with a thousand-odd voices joined in almost every key imaginable. Sheer frenzy pervaded the room. The throng was made up of mostly the old, the poor, and the unemployed (this was a work day), and the electricity was unquestionable; Kennedy made his exit slowly, pressing more flesh as he left.   

Even when back in his car, they wanted to stop him, pressing their faces against the windows, smiling. The Chevrolet progressed slowly back to the road, and on to the next stop.   

“What a glorious afternoon,” he said once the car broke free. “What a glorious day.”   

Life is full of glorious days for Teddy Kennedy now, days in which he does what he likes to do—appearing in public, rousing audiences, speaking, joking, and singing with them, and being rewarded with their applause, their adulation, and their love. After a long, hard fifteen years—in which he suffered the murders of his brothers, the death of his father, and the tragedy at Chappaquiddick, and in which he three times withdrew himself from consideration for the Presidency—Teddy seems at last to be having fun. That this whirlwind of public appearances and pronunciamientos are troublesome to his party, frightening to his President, and confusing to the public, bothers him not; it pleases him to do these things, so he does them.