Sen. Edward Kennedy (don't call him "Teddy") is hot again, just as he was in 1968, 1972 and 1976. A crowd of guessers figures he is running for president, although the 1980 season is 18 months away. Those panting for a political savior freely tell pollsters that Kennedy is the salvation, the salve, the cure-all for what ails us.
George Gallup proclaims that Democrats favor him over President Carter to be the 1980 nominee by a 44-to-20 score, and that all voters want him over Gerald Ford by 59-to-41.
The dopesters who see all events as crafted, and ignore the power of the prosaic, mutter, uh huh, and note that: a new poll shows the public forgiving Kennedy for Chappaquiddick; Joan Kennedy's confession on alcoholism is compassionately received; Kennedy has a busy schedule this fall, one that will put even more Democrats in his debt.
All that pleases, even amuses, Kennedy. He loves his popularity and the knowledge that, given his personal setbacks, he recovered and made his own way. He doesn't plot or make moves to run, nor will he. He actually doesn't want to, and could be persuaded if Carter pulls an LBJ and quits, or if Carter is humiliated in the primaries, or if a nation-shaking issue develops.
For years, even those factors wouldn't have been enough to persuade him. The trauma of all the Kennedy tragedies was too much with him, and he was too involved in being father to the children of his dead brothers.
In recent years, the problems of his wife and his son, Teddy, who lost a leg to cancer,occupied him more than any presidential thoughts. Always, there were the wishes of his sisters and mother-cautious for the safety of the last son.
Besides, Kennedy relishes his role as a senior senator. "I have new opportunities in the next Congress, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee," he told me recently. "Think of the enormous impact on the system of justice, the safety of our citizens and the protection of liberties. We'll be passing on 140 new judges-one fifth of the judiciary - in one year."
He welcomes the debate he has stirred by putting up a national health plan in opposition to the president's. "If we had announced the principles of a health program on Friday, and all agreed, we would have been on page 10 on Saturday. This way, we've got people thinking about the differences, and ventilating the issue," he says.
Once Kennedy sometimes mouthed what was just whispered in his ear by a bright staffer. Today he knows his stuff down to nitty-gritty. He and Sen. Howard Cannon (D-Nev.) pushed for airline deregulation to the point that the airlines drastically reduced fares in selfdefense. Now Kennedy argues for deregulations so that new drugs can be brought on the market quicker.
Ask about tax revolt and big, inefficient government, and Kennedy offers liberal rebuttal: "We can save $59 billion by 1984 if we vote for national health insurance. I think the biggest tax credits (tuition aid) without applying the same criteria we do for straight appropriations. In oil and gas, why don't we give tax incentives to wildcatters instead of to dentists seeking tax shelters?
"Proposition 13 was also a cry against bigness in all forms. If Howard Jarvis had packaged his proposition in a way to cut the size of big business instead of big government, the voters would have approved that, too."
People warm to Kennedy, despite his liberal rhetoric, because, like his brothers before him, he holds out hope and promise. He will chair hearings this fall on his national health bill, one we really don't need, and will get big media exposure. Kennedy will stump for Democrats everywhere, and more comparisons will be made between the enthusiasm for him and the turning away from Carter.
It is heady stuff, but Kennedy has seen it before and will see it again. He said, "that's about right," when I asked him if the presidental goal was less important to him than it was to his brothers.
For all the gossip about his personal life, Kennedy has always felt a deep responsibility to the entire Kennedy family and looked after any kin in need.
"It's obvious that the Kennedy family has been through so much," he told me, "and it continues to be a major factor in my life. But grandchildren grow up and get settled down. Times change, and in a period of future years, things may change for me. But my position is that I do not want to run, that I support President Carter, and that he will be reelected."
If you ask him if he really wants to become the Irish Daniel Webster, Kennedy lets out one of those roaring laughs that make people like him. "Read those speeches," he says, "and you'll see that no one can ever be that again."