June 18, 1960. I was a 19 year-old college kid who, through an unlikely series of events, found himself at the Colorado state democratic convention, held that year at Fort Lewis College in Durango.
The keynote speaker: Sen. John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy was accompanied by half-a-dozen aides, including his brother Ted, then 27. He struck me as arrogant, over privileged, and rather stupid – and I was, of course, insanely jealous of him.
Seen beside his brother who, like Eisenhower and Obama, had “command presence,” Teddy seemed smaller than life – just a punk kid, the campaign gofer, a good-for-nothing who had been tossed out of Harvard for cheating.
Forty-nine years after that summer afternoon, Ted Kennedy has joined his brothers in death.
John and Bobby haunt our collective national memories, mythic heroes struck down by cowardly assassins, men who, had they lived, might have helped create a very different nation.
But Ted, saddled with an impossible legacy, overcame it. Failing in a desultory attempt to gain his party’s nomination during 1980, he chose to continue in the Senate. In a time of conservative ascendancy, he was a powerful and effective player, able to work effectively with Republican legislators and Republican presidents.
We tend to forget the worker bees of our democracy, the men and women who serve in Congress for decades, whose legislative achievements shape our lives. Few remember the great Sam Rayburn, the plainspoken Texan who, as Speaker, led the House of Representatives for many years. Fewer still remember Wayne Aspinall, the long – serving congressman from the Western Slope who, as chairman of the powerful House Interior Committee, pushed through a score of western water projects.
Kennedy’s achievements rank with those of the greatest legislators of our history-but he won’t be remembered for them. He was the little brother-a bit player in Kennedy myth yet the fortunate son-that member of our American House of Atreus unseen by the fates, who lived to comb gray hair.
Rest in peace, old warrior – you were so much more than I believed 49 years ago, during a warm June afternoon in Durango. I guess that I was the punk kid…