ALL POLITICS WAS PERSONAL

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By JOHN KERRY  ::  TEDDY WAS THE GREATEST TEACHER anyone in politics  could  have  asked for. I may not always have been the best student, but he never stopped dispensing lessons.

I came out of activist, grassroots poli- tics, where the coin of the realm was  issues and policy positions. Activists sometimes are wired even  to  look  past the  personal  touch, the emotional  connection, for fear it distracts from the agenda. Teddy, through his actions,  showed  us all  just how essential it is. Yes, Tip O’Neill taught a gen- eration of Massachusetts politicians that “all politics is local.” But it was Teddy who taught us that all poli- tics was personal.


It was personal when he brought his warm heart to melt the snows of Iowa for me when I  was  running for president in zoo 4 Per- sonal because my under- dog status wouldn’t keep Ted away from keeping faith with a friend and a colleague. But eQually per- sonal in the bond between this silver-haired lion and the people of Iowa.

One cold night in a Davenport  VFW  hall, just two weeks before the caucuses, Ted brought down the house. Recall- ing his brothers’ Iowa races and his own, he bel- lowed: “You voted for my brother! You voted for my other  brother!  You didn’t vote for me!” And as the crowd roared with  laughter,  Ted shouted: “But we’re back here for John Kerry. And if you vote for John  Kerry, I’ll forgive you! You can have three out of four . . . and I’m going  to love Iowa. I’m going to love you.” Andwhen Ted said it, he didn’t just say he’d “love”  Iowa,  the  lion  roared  that he’d “loooovvve” Iowa!

His incredible love of life and laughter was always in great supply in the Senate. In the cloakroom sometimes,  the roars of laughter were so great they could be heard out on the Senate floor. Once, I remember, Ted was holding forth—I will not  share  the  topic—and  the presiding
ofhcer pounded the gavel and demanded, “There will be order in  the  Senate—and in the cloakroom.”

His pranks were works of art and brilliant calculation. One night, after a long series of Thursday-night votes had pushed senators past time to catch com- mercial flights home to the Northeast, Seri. Frank  Lautenberg  arranged for a private plane for himself to get up to Martha's Vineyard. It turned out that a number of senators needed to  travel  in that direction, and  when  Frank  learned of it, he kindly offered Sen. Claiborne Pell, Ted, and me a ride. There was no discussion of sharing the cost. Everyone thought Frank was being  very gener- ous. But the next week, all of us were on the Senate floor for a vote when official- looking envelopes were delivered to us under Frank Lautenberg’s signature, with exorbitant expenses charged for the flight. Senator Pell roared down the aisle brandishing the bill. Senator Lauten- berg  was  red-faced,   protesting  he knew nothing about it, when out of the corner of my eye I spied Ted Kennedy up by his desk—Cheshire-cat grin—so pleased with himself. Mystery solved: Ted had managed to secure a few sheets of Lau- tenberg’s stationery and sent false  bills to each of us!

His personal touch wasn’t just humor- ous,  it  was  caring.  It  was  bigger than politics. When George Wallace was wounded in an assassination attempt, the first to visit him was Ted Kennedy. When Joe Biden underwent brain surgery for an aneurysm, the  first  to  board  the train to Wilmington was Ted Kennedy. In my first term in the Senate, I came down with pneumonia. I was single, tired, and run ragged,  and  Ted  decided I lacked the kind of care necessary to  get  well. Next thing I knew, Ted instructed me that I was going to  Florida  to  stay in the Kennedy home in Palm Beach and be cared for until I got well.

In my office is a photo- graph of the two of us on “Day i. *98s,” my first day in the Senate.  Ted  signed it, “As Humphrey Bogart would have said, This is the beginning of a beauti- ful friendship.” For almost 25 years, it was a beautiful friendship, as I worked at his side, learning from the greatest  senator ever.

Over the years, I re- ceived hundreds of handwritten notes from Ted, some funny, some touching, all of them treasures. Just before Thanksgiv- ing one year, Ted sent me a note that he would be spending the holiday on the water with his beloved sailboat, the Mya. He wished me a happy holiday,  adding, “If you’re out on the ‘Sound’ look for the ‘Mya.’ She will be there.”

I think now I will always be on the look- out for the Mya and her bighearted skip- per, who taught me so much about how to steer the right course.

KERRY is  a  Democrtitic  senator from
Massachusetts.

 

-NewsWeek, september 7,2009