I'm about 25 pages away from finishing The Battle for America 2008, written by Dan Balz (Balz!) and Haynes Johnson (who one of my bosses describes as "totally bought into his own press," awk), and on the N train as we crept out of the tunnel and into the cement-searing sunshine of Long Island City, I tripped over this passage:
Two months before, Kennedy was operated on at the Duke University Medical Center to remove a malignant glioma, a fast-growing tumor, in his brain. Home from the hospital, he let family and friends know that he wanted to address the Democrats in person, not by way of a videotaped tribute. Since his operation he received daily radiation therapy, followed by chemotherapy. For three weeks before the convention, despite his failing health, he rehearsed his speech. On the Sunday before the convention opened, he made a long flight by private jet to Denver. he arrived in excruciating pain. At first doctors feared the pain was connected to his cancer, then determined he was suffering from notoriously painful kidney stones.
Kennedy remained in a University of Colorado Hospital room, enduring a sleepless night and morning pain, until less than two hours before he was scheduled to speak. "There was nothing that was going to keep him away," his niece Caroline Kennedy later told The Boston Globe. With a doctor, paramedics, his wife, Vicki, and Caroline, he left his hospital bed, was driven to the convention center, then transported by golf cart into the Pepsi Center. With Caroline and Vicki at his side, he walked laboriously, limping slightly to the podium and faced the delegates. An intravenous tube, implanted to administer pain medication, could be seen sticking from an Ace bandage on his left hand.
The Ted Kennedy who stood before the delegates in Denver was seventy-six years old and in his forty-sixth year in the Senate. He was the last link to his assassinated brothers--and to the time when the Democratic Party stood supreme as the nation's majority party. He was the unquestioned leader of the liberal, and of course the man whose endorsement gave Barack Obama his greatest boost with Democrats and helped him defeat Hillary Clinton.
As he began to speak, there were tears throughout the hall as the last of the Kennedy brothers--the "lion in winter," he was now being called--delivered the speech that might well be his last hurrah. It wasn't great oratory, but that didn't matter. His familiar voice, if huskier and at times halting, struck deep chords. In calling for the election of Obama as a harbinger of "a season of hope," he evoked the memory of his slain brothers. He was passing the torch, and everyone in the hall knew it.
And I couldn't help it, there were tears rolling down my face, and there are tears in my eyes again. I poured a drink for Ted Kennedy when news came he had died, and I remember I cried when news broke he had, in his last days, made an effort to make provisions for his 60th vote--to filibuster-proof the inevitable ugly fight over health care. And I also remember that night at the Democratic convention. I don't remember him being a bad orator. I remember being astonished he was on his feet, too distracted by the still-weighty boom of him, all the history that climbs up to a podium when the Liberal Lion gets up to talk, and so I was crying on the subway because he's gone and I didn't know how hard it was to get up there that night.
I don't really care about the death of journalism, not in any concrete way. Need met. Someone else will fill the spaces newspapers will leave behind, and no one is to blame for the death of the media other than the media itself--but I will miss books like this, the rich and revelatory nature of books that come from reporters who have been in the trenches for years, who pry out these gems and polish them into novels.
And also, I will miss Ted Kennedy.
Weeping aside, I really, really recommend this book.