Edward M. Kennedy: A Biographyby Adam Clymer
Edward M. Kennedy is one of the most influential senators in Congress. For the last 35 years, he's played a major role in events ranging from the Vietnam War to Supreme Court confirmations. He's also been closely associated with issues such as health care, civil rights and campaign finance reform. More than the foremost lawmaker and best orator in the Senate, he's… See more details below
Edward M. Kennedy is one of the most influential senators in Congress. For the last 35 years, he's played a major role in events ranging from the Vietnam War to Supreme Court confirmations. He's also been closely associated with issues such as health care, civil rights and campaign finance reform. More than the foremost lawmaker and best orator in the Senate, he's enthralled (and disappointed) a generation who saw him as the keeper of his famous brothers' flame. He's seen America and her politics change in drastic ways. In this definitive biography, New York Times Washington Editor Adam Clymer draws an in-depth portrait of this complex man. Through interviews with Kennedy, and the people close to him, he places Kennedy's career in a historical perspective, and observes how Kennedy's personal life has affected his political performance. The Senator has dealt with his infamous legacy, struggled to overcome the Chappaquiddick incident, and handled spectacular failures as well as many truimphs. He's one of the few old-fashioned liberals who has held the Democratic Party to its principles, and is a hero to many. This is a unique, enormously readable chronicle of one of the most fascinating political figures of our time.
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The early favorite for the Democratic Presidential nomination and ten members of his family gathered on a gray Cape Cod day on the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1982. His chief aide explained how polls and television advertisements and a battle-hardened campaign staff could win not only the nomination but, with difficulty, the Presidency in 1984. In corduroys, jeans, and sweaters, they faced him in a semicircle of old chairs and couches in the living room of President Kennedy's old cottage at Hyannis Port.
Two of the group, Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his brother-in-law, Stephen Smith, had been next door at Robert F. Kennedy's house twenty-three years before when John F. Kennedy's decision to run had been settled. They had been the youngest of the sixteen men who were there that day. This meeting looked very different. Not only were they the oldest men present, but two of the Senator's sisters were there, as were one niece, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, two nephews, Joseph P. Kennedy I and Stephen Smith, Jr., and his own three children, Kara, Ted, and Patrick.
Larry Horowitz, a physician who had taken over as the Senator's administrative assistant the year before, began by distributing two memorandums. One summarized the nation's political mood and described Kennedy's opportunity. The other forecast that the economy, now in the depths of the Ronald Reagan recession with unemployment over 10 percent for the first time since the Great Depression, would stay bad into 1984.
In November 1982, Ronald Reagan's Presidency seemed vulnerable. Democrats did not expect to be out of the White House for another decade. They had justpicked up twenty-six House seats, almost wiping away the Republican gains of 1980. With only a year or two of hindsight, it would be clear this was a false Democratic dawn. Reagan's own popularity came back quickly as the recession ended and a boom began in 1983. He was a master at political theater, capitalizing on moments like the ceremonies at Normandy honoring the fortieth anniversary of the D-Day landings.
But at the time, the 1984 nomination seemed worth pursuing. Several Democrats were seeking it, lining up supporters early, readying fund-raising machinery for the January 1, 1983, starting line, after which contributions could be matched by federal dollars. George McGovern in 1972 and Jimmy Carter in 1976 had beaten crowded nomination fields by starting early, and Kennedy had lost in 1980 after a late entry. A timely decision was demanded.
Horowitz spoke of a campaign that was ready to go. In June, Kennedy had told a reporter that in 1980 he had made an important mistake that he would not repeat--"worrying about whether to run or not to run instead of what to do after I ran." So for months a shadow campaign had been at work. In early November, four supporters had taken every state party official they could find at a Democratic meeting in New Orleans to fancy restaurants, wooing them, flattering them, and stuffing them. Kennedy's people had worked effectively with aides to his most likely rival, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, to tilt the nominating rules away from outsiders. Decisions had been made about pollsters, a fund-raising operation, and clearly defined roles for the people at the top. With his own reelection to the Senate from Massachusetts well in hand all year, Kennedy had spent the fall campaigning for any Democrat who wanted him, picking up IOUs in eighteen states while honing a message of economic injustice and nuclear uncertainty.
Horowitz's presentation argued that the campaign was in place, that the race would be tough, no sure thing, but could be won. The staff was quite confident about winning the Democratic nomination over Mondale and the rest of the Democrats. The general election was another matter, they thought, whether the economy stayed weak or not. The Senator had told Horowitz that beating Reagan would be very, very tough, that Reagan had established a singular connection to voters that was independent of what he actually said. So why make an uphill race? Kennedy felt that a major party's nomination is always worth having, because anything can happen in Presidential politics and no general election is a sure thing.
When some of those in the room listened to the Senator prod Horowitz and draw him out, they sensed that he felt a political obligation to run and make the liberal case in a conservative age. But politics was not all there was to it, or else the family would not have been the audience. For perhaps half an hour, Horowitz laid the case out, describing the political pluses and minuses, such as polls showing him very strong in Iowa, very weak in Illinois.
The young people showed little interest in those matters. At first the cousins seemed to speak for Kennedy's own children when they scoffed at the survey data and the calculations generally. Then the Senator's older son, Teddy, interrupted Horowitz. Teddy was twenty-one and used to speaking up for the others when Kara, now twenty-two, or Patrick, fifteen, hung back. He said he really did not care about the numbers, but about "what is best for the family," for Kennedy himself and for his children. Danger to him was only an undertone. The fear was of how the demands of a campaign would take the Senator away from them and rearrange their own lives.
For more than a year Kennedy had been torn between the expectations of his political followers and the reluctance of his family. He had fired up his supporters with a speech at the party's conference in June 1982 in Philadelphia, sounding the old-time Democratic gospel and proclaiming, "The last thing this country needs is two Republican parties," grinning while Mummers bands in electric green and shocking pink led a completely unauthorized but carefully planned demonstration. In the fall, he had used his easy race for reelection to the Senate to test campaign commercials intended to blunt the "character issue" raised by Mary Jo Kopechne's death at Chappaquiddick. In September, he told an old ally, Tip O'Neill, the Speaker of the House, that he expected to run, though O'Neill urged him not to. In Oc-tober, he persuaded Senator Harold Hughes of Iowa to abandon Senator Alan Cranston of California, a real long shot, and back him instead. They talked of campaigning for the Iowa caucuses with just the two of them in a car, with no press corps and no Secret Service.
And while Kennedy was insistently coy when asked if he would run, most reporters and most politicians put that down as tactical teasing, not uncertainty.
Copyright ? 1999 by Adam Clymer
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