The television screen is filled with the unmistakable image of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) walking with his son, Teddy, who uses a cane because he lost a leg to cancer.
"Few of us will ever experience the pain and sorrow that has fallen upon Edward Moore Kennedy," the announcer says in this most unusual advertisement airing in Massachusetts, where the senator is an overwhelming favorite for reelection.
With an eye clearly on the presidency in 1984, Kennedy has authorized four five-minute television ads aimed at public concerns about his personal life and the Chappaquiddick tragedy that have dominated right-wing attacks on him.
While campaigning in California for Democratic candidates this year and for his own 1984 prospects, Kennedy is asked why he decided to air personal tragedies he has been reluctant to discuss.
"It's always a question of balance," Kennedy replied in an interview, "a sense of privacy for one's self and one's children, but when you've been in public life and aroused strong feelings . . . .
"I've been the target of radical right groups, and their assault on me has always been personal," he continued. "It is important to recognize that the kind of distortion that has been written about in the press would also be continued in the media . . . . I hope this gives an extra dimension of where I am."
The commercials, created by Kennedy's new media adviser, Californian Michael Kaye, feature lengthy bits of conversation from longtime Kennedy friends.
Chappaquiddick is not mentioned, although Frank Manning, 83, founder of the Legislative Council for Older Americans, is shown saying, "No matter how great the tragedy, he was able to pull himself together," and, "He's not a plaster saint. He's not without fault."
Another ad begins with the announcer talking about how Kennedy filled "the void left by the loss of his brothers." It features the late Robert F. Kennedy's daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, recalling how Kennedy took her father's place at her prewedding reception and jovially led songs even though he had just learned that his son had cancer.
Others feature talk about how Kennedy has, in the words of one, "been criticized for many things--but never for a lack of compassion."
A priest discusses how Kennedy visited an 11-year-old boy dying of leukemia and asked to linger for 40 minutes at a campaign stop to console the parents at their kitchen table.
Deleted just before the ads were aired was Manning's observation that "the value of human life and the value of individuals is very important to him." Kaye said he cut that because of concern that the words might inflame anti-abortionists.
Kennedy said that the idea for the commercials grew out of talks with Kaye. Kaye said the idea was not to try to change minds about events in Kennedy's life but to try to show another side of Kennedy, who is not comfortable talking about the events.
The ads are being shown in Massachusetts, where Kennedy's Republican opponent is businessman Raymond Shamie, with an eye toward using the same appeal in 1984, Kennedy and his advisers concede. "We hope to learn lessons for the future for whatever I do," Kennedy said.
Kennedy intended to come to California Friday for two major campaign appearances with Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., who has an uphill Senate race against San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson.
Earlier this year, Kennedy and Brown were in minor combat when Brown said he would endorse the 1984 presidential campaign of a fellow Californian, Sen. Alan Cranston. Kennedy called Brown and Cranston to say that if Brown did so, Kennedy might be too busy to campaign for Brown in California.
Kennedy aides maintained that the trip was not necessary to bury any hatchet.
But a planned nuclear freeze rally was canceled, and then Brown never showed up for an AFL-CIO dinner here, though Kennedy delivered lengthy and effusive praise of him.
Kennedy and his aides were mystified by Brown's absence. "I just don't know what to make of it," said Kennedy.
Brown's campaign manager, Michael (Mickey) Kantor, was equally mystified. "I know he had other campaign stops, but he was supposed to be here for this. I just can't explain it," he said.