On the Monday before Christmas, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was not resting comfortably at home, savoring holiday cheer with the extended family that he heads. Rather, and characteristically, he was meeting with flood victims in West Virginia to make sure that the government was doing what it could to ease their distress. The meeting in the little town of Albright was part of a tour that Kennedy is making to focus attention on hunger, poverty and suffering in America.
It was perhaps characteristic, also, that during the Albright meeting a woman burst from the room yelling obscenities, saying in effect that the meeting was baloney. As with Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan or a handful of other U.S. politicians, it is difficult to be neutral about the Kennedys and their role in American political life.
For years it seemed almost inevitable that Ted Kennedy one day would be President of the United States, or at least the Democratic nominee for President. But now, after his early withdrawal from the 1988 contest, it is becoming clear that this may never happen. The public mood has changed. Many voters now know the John F. Kennedy presidency only through history texts and scratchy black-and-white television film. Yet Chappaquiddick always lurks nearby when Ted Kennedy points toward a presidential campaign.
Most Americans admire Ted Kennedy. Colleagues rate him an excellent senator. But the American electorate does not yet seem willing to entrust him with the presidency. Perhaps it never will, although Kennedy potentially has decades of his life left to give to public service.
Still, Ted Kennedy was in Albright, W.Va., on Monday to let the people there know that \o7 some\f7 one cares about them, that \o7 some\f7 one still is concerned about social justice in America.