It's been a great fall for Boston. Pope John Paul paid a visit. John Fitzgerald Kennedy's memorial library was dedicated. Edward Kennedy announced for the presidency.
For those of us old friends of the Kennedys who feel that nostaligia is almost as good as it used to be, the library opening was the real happening. We thought about John and Bobby, and we talked a lot about Teddy. We had romantic notions about where we had been, and no clear notion of where we were going.
We saw the first confrontation between Teddy and Jimmy Carter, and although Teddy had a home-field advantage, Carter won. It was a jolt with reality: another Kennedy campaign had begun.
The thought of Teddy for president had been there for quite a while, but it had never loomed so large. The present had finally caught up with us: As with children growing up, you awake one morning and there they are.
It didn't take our crowd -- friends, old campaigners and aging journalists -- long to adjust. Everybody's first question was, "Is Teddy ready?" And nobody's answer was an assuring "Yessiree."
It was obvious Teddy wasn't ready that day. Maybe it was the emotional memories, the surroundings and the occasion evoked, but Edward Moore Kennedy wasn't really with us. Or maybe we really weren't with him. Maybe we really don't know Teddy Kennedy, the presidential candidate.
we knew him as Jack's younger brother,who in 1960 had the somewhat ambiguous title of campaign coordinator for the 11 western states. When something was happening in Californiw, Teddy would be in Colorade, Jack didnT carry a single state in the region, although you really couldn't blame Teddy for that. He had nothing to do wih it.
In 1962, his brother and the generous people of Massachusetts gave him a Senate seat, and some would say that they were spoiling him. If they were, it was just as well. The world would close in on him soon enough.
He chased around with college roommates and with cousins whose only responsibilities were to open the summer houses, and who usually forgot the keys.
Then came Dallas, and new family responsibilities shared with his brother Bobby. While Bobby ran for president, Teddy made a few appearances, but mostly stayed home and dealt with family matters. Very soon the total responsibility would be his.
Bobby was hardly buried when the first pressures came for Teddy to run for president. It was pressure he would feel often during the next 11 years. No one can accuse him of indulging in an impulsive whim now.
Teddy is running, and as he said the other day, "Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it will be worse than I think." Most of his friends and family agree. It will be a lot worse than he thinks. Most of the old Kennedy associates who were gathered at the library don't look upon Teddy's decision to run as a continuation of an interrupted dream. In that final moment in that hotel kitchen in Los Angeles, the door closed on Jack and Bobby forever.
It's a different world now, a different time and a different Kennedy, and for the moment there seem to be a lot of doubts.
The old journalists agreed that this would be the roughest campaign on record, and no one wanted to bet on the outcome. One highly venerable chronicler of presidential campaigns thinks Teddy will squeak by with the nominatin but will lose the election in November. A couple of the old group see Teddy's insurmountable problem to be Jerry Brown, along about May, a smart-talking attack on the flank when he will already have more than he can handle.
Still, we admitted we didn't know Teddy, so maybe uneasiness was just an unsound gut reaction.
The conversation, of course, turned to Chappaquiddick. The people who had been at the party that infamous night were all there at the library dedication, including the "boiler room girls." (The expression is an old joke that turned sour: the young women never were Playboy bunnies; they were the six regional coordinators who kept track of every delegate and every potential delegate to the 1968 Democratic convention. They kept Bobby advised about what really was going on out there, and when and where a phone call and a little pressure or flattery were in order. They were in control of the most important function in any presidential campaign.) Today, four of them are lawyers, a fifth is a New York literary agent, and one, of course is dead. Once their best-kept secret was that Bobby didn't have enough delegates to win the nomination.
some six months after Bobby's assassination, they bucked themselves up with a get-together in Washington, and they invited Teddy. Everyone had a great time, so they decided to hav another party that summer at Chappaquiddick. The encore wasn't much fun.
Among them there has never been much disagreement over what happened that night. But they've had lingering doubts about Teddy's attitude.
Others have doubts too, of course. Jimmy Breslin pretty well spoke for all of us when he wrote after Teddy's explanation to Roger Mudd last Sunday on TV: "If Kennedy persists, if he wants to seem distant and uncaring about his own failure there, he could start people who generally have decided that Chappaquiddick is not reason enough to vote against him into looking at each other and saying, "If this guy doesn't care about what happened to the girl, then why is he going to care about me and my kids?
One of the Chappaquiddick party survivors thought that Teddy had another grievous liablity:
"You will not see a single woman in a top campaign position. He just doesn't understand how important women are to the delegate-selection process. Half the delegates will be women, and in many areas women will dominate the selection."
We came away from Boston with the feeling that Jack and Bobby had a very fitting memoril, and that Teddy just might not get his campaign off the ground. And we had a real sense that the 1980s had begun, that the 1960s were history.
I remember vividly when Bobby marched in the St. Patrick's Day parade only a few hours after he had announced his candidacy for the 1968 nomination: He had hardly taken three steps up Fifth Avenue when he got his first greeting:
"Get a haircut, ya bum."
Teddy doesn't have a ready-made parade. But he has a long march ahead before he'll reach, for better or worse, Madison Square Garden. He is on his own, ahd the heckling from the sidewalk isn't going to be about haircuts.