Early in the evening, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the local favorite and designated needler, looked down the dais and said, "Will the next president of the United States please stand up?"
With some embarrassment, the six visiting firemen came to their feet. Sens. Dale Bumpers, Alan Cranston, John Glenn, Gary Hart and Ernest Hollings and former vice president Walter F. Mondale stood there, looking sheepish.
The Thursday night Massachusetts Democratic fund-raiser was in the format they love here: the roast, where a politician is judged by his ability to respond to slurs on his character, competence and intellect. At the end of the long evening, the consensus of the politically shrewd audience of 1,500 was that Mondale hurt himself, the others all did reasonably well--and it probably didn't matter a lot in the larger scheme of things.
Mondale stiffed the other candidates by not showing up for the pre-dinner group picture with Kennedy, and he stiffed the audience by insisting on speaking early--part of the "I'm-not-one-of-the-pack" strategy. He spoke just as dinner was being served, and the clatter, combined with a faulty sound system, made him mostly unintelligible.
Those who heard him assured the others that they did not miss much. When Kennedy jabbed him about recently describing several major policy disagreements with President Carter and suggested that "Fritz could have saved me a lot of trouble in 1980" by challenging Carter himself, the best the former vice president could come back with was a weak pre-scripted line about a local character named Dapper O'Neill. And as soon as Mondale finished speaking, he left--leaving a bad taste in some mouths.
The others all had more fun with their talks.
When Kennedy said Hart was "young, attractive, vigorous and charismatic--but I like him anyhow," Hart was quick to come back with a declaration that, because of the sound system distortion, "when you heard Ted say it was a pleasure to introduce me, he was really saying it's a pleasure to endorse me."
When Kennedy kidded Cranston about his age--saying he was glad Cranston was popularizing the idea of a 68-year-old president, because "I may need it some day"--the Californian shot back, "I'm glad you're adjusting so nicely to your role as an elder statesman."
A great state tradition was cited by Kennedy in introducing Glenn. "Ohio, the mother of presidents," he said. "Rutherford B. Hayes, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding." Glenn gave him a good shot in return. "We're all here seeking Ted's endorsement. We know how valuable it is. Look what it did for Jane Byrne."
For Bumpers, probably the least known to the crowd, Kennedy simply intoned, with a note of absolute incredulity, "President Bumpers . . . it does have a certain ring to it."
"I had until this very moment," Bumpers replied, "seriously considered a Bumpers-Kennedy ticket."
For Hollings, Kennedy invented a campaign pledge: "If he becomes president, he promises he'll give us back our textile companies."
Hollings, enjoying his tail-end position, bragged that he was "the one candidate who has managed a Kennedy campaign and won"--in South Carolina in 1960. "And it wasn't easy," he said, for him or his friend Beasley.
"They said JFK had gone to Harvard, and it took. They said his daddy had made money selling Scotch whiskey. They said he was a Catholic, and that if he became president, there'd be holy water in the White House commodes. They asked old Beasley what he thought about that, and he said, 'I don't know anything about commodes. I ain't no Catholic.'"