I barely knew Ted Kennedy, though I had heard him tell the starfish story. My favorite memory goes back to the early Eighties when he came out to Fire Island for a fundraiser. It was unheard of – a sitting United States Senator coming to a community where many of the residents were still hiding from their co-workers and their families. “The Hamptons,” many of us would say when asked where we were going for the weekend; or, “Long Island.”
Two enthusiastic young men donned high heels and aprons and walked backwards sweeping sand from the boardwalk as the great man approached.
Today, of course, lots of folks swing by here. And we take it for granted that the Chairman of the House Financial Services (of recent “on what planet do you spend most of your time” fame) happens to be gay, as are the mayors of Paris and Berlin and Winnipeg and Providence and, soon, I hope, Houston. Back then, New York had a gay mayor (and not long before, Great Britain had had a gay prime minister), but only on the QT.
So what possessed Ted Kennedy to come to Fire Island? Certainly he didn’t need the money – Kennedys have never had much trouble getting elected in Massachusetts. All I know for sure is that he did come; that he was hale and upbeat, filled with encouragement and determination for a better, more equitable future.
Even so, a theory was advanced at dinner last night by a TV journalist who had profiled him and to whom he had shown a special kindness. “I think it’s because he was a fat child,” she said . . . who was constantly moving from school to school – he attended 10 different ones by the time he was 11 – and constantly having to deal with the taunting and bullying that fat children are subjected to (especially back then, when fewer children were fat). “He’d take the abuse and gradually win them over with his humor – but then have to start all over again at the next school.”
The point? He knew what it as like to be the outcast. And it was from this personal experience, she suggested, that his empathy and compassion sprang.
Or maybe it was just in the Kennedy blood. “To see wrong and try to right it; see suffering and try to heal it; see war, and try to stop it,” as Teddy so memorably eulogized his brother.
From wherever it sprang, it was genuine.
How genuine are the opponents of health care reform, the cause Ted Kennedy was fighting for until the end?
Mel: “If this Bill Moyers interview with a former top health insurance executive were played prior to town hall meetings, the entire tone of these events would change. It’s as revealing as the 60 Minutes program on 40 years of tobacco company lies. PLEASE watch it! Or read the transcript.”
Executive summary: “The industry is resorting to the same tactics they’ve used over the years, and particularly back in the early ‘90s, when they were leading the effort to kill the Clinton plan.”