Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Quotes From the Future: Ted Kennedy's Political Force

"We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make."

-- Edward M. Kennedy, quoted in this morning's New York Times obituary for the Massachusetts senator. The line comes from a speech Kennedy delivered when he received an honorary degree at Harvard last December.

In nearly two decades of Washington journalism, I have never come anywhere near as close to stumping a lawmaker as I did when I was a 12-year-old volunteer on Ted Kennedy's 1980 presidential bid.

My volunteer work on Kennedy's campaign for the Democratic nomination had nothing to do with politics. My sixth-grade political views were embryonic, at best. But the campaign staff conveniently located their D.C. headquarters in an abandoned Cadillac dealership on 22nd Street NW, just a couple of blocks from my mother's office. Having nothing better to do with her pesky son when school was out, she took me to work with her and then dispatched me to the Kennedy HQ down the street. And the campaign staff kept me plenty busy: I worked in the mail room; I photocopied donor checks and FEC documents; I fed audio clips to local radio stations over the phone; I couriered packages across town; I helped set up chairs for a fund-raiser on the lawn at the senator's McLean home. It was like a wonky summer camp.

As the Democratic primaries wound down in early June, Kennedy came by the office to thank the troops. This was my opportunity to get the candidate to sign one of the black-and-white photos that I had signed in his name for many supporters when I worked in the mail room.

When my turn came to shake the senator's hand, the only thing I could think to say perfectly captured my lifelong geekiness:

"May the Force be with you, Senator."

What else would a 12-year-old say in 1980? "The Empire Strikes Back" had just come out in theaters.

Kennedy was baffled. "Uh, thank you -- very much," he said in that distinctive "Kennedy accent." Then he signed his picture and moved on.

His brother John may have charted humanity's path to the Moon, but Senator Kennedy clearly was wondering how his campaign had been infiltrated by a little alien from a galaxy very far away.

No comments: