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The Senator

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

All last week there were rumors that he would not make it to Denver at all. Then on Monday there were rumors that he was in a Denver hospital receiving oxygen, and that at best he would be in a box at Pepsi Center, watching the tribute and waving to the crowd. He'll never make it to the podium, more than one person told me. They don't know the Senator.

I worked for him nearly 30 years ago. And 28 years ago, as he took to the podium on that hot Tuesday night in New York, I slipped out of the boiler room and stood with my old friend, the late, great Paul Tully, in the Pennsylvania delegation, and cried as he delivered the speech for which I had traded half a dozen minority reports, for which we had negotiated with the Carter people for days.

"The dream shall never die," he said, and as a kid, barely out of law school, I thought I understood. "Keep the rudder true," he said, and I thought I knew what he meant. I thought I was seeing true grit, real courage and determination, the best that politics had to offer.

Twenty-eight years later, fighting brain cancer, Ted Kennedy took to the stage to keep the dream alive. He is older, and so am I, and I have come to understand the courage life requires and to respect the man I will always think of as "the Senator" even more than I did so many years ago.

When I first went to work for the Senator, Chappaquiddick was barely a decade past. That horrible night, the tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne, the mistakes in judgment the Senator unquestionably made, were all fresh in the minds of the people we were asking to vote for him for president. In many places, it was the first thing people asked me about; so many years later, in some crowds, on some shows, it still is.

There is, of course, no answer. It was an accident and a tragedy. It should not have happened. He should have reported it right away. All that is true.

But as I have learned, in the end, the measure of a person is less about the bad or good things that have happened to them, or that they have caused, than about how they handle them; less about their luck, good or bad, than their grit.

Ted Kennedy saw two of his brothers die at the hands of assassins. He saw his nephew die in a plane crash. Two of his three children have battled cancer, and the third has battled addiction. He carries with him the burden of the death of a woman 40 years ago on a small island off Massachusetts.

Dealt that hand, most people would no longer be playing. Who runs for president after two brothers are killed? Who puts himself out there knowing he will be excoriated for a horrible accident? If it were a friend, you'd tell them to give it up, it's not worth it, why put yourself through it, why set yourself up as a target? Why drag yourself to Denver, push yourself onto the podium, put all of that on a body that is sick and struggling?

There is only one answer. It is because you believe. Because you have a dream. Because the dream will never die.

I'm not sure Sen. Kennedy's appearance at the convention in Denver convinced any swing voters or moderate undecideds to vote for Barack Obama. James Carville may well be right that the first night of the convention did not carry the sort of sharp anti-BushandMcCain message required to win this campaign.

But in terms of demonstrations of courage, of commitment, of what it means to triumph over adversity, I doubt there will be many convention nights to top it.


See Other Political Commentaries

See Other Commentaries by Susan Estrich

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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