Ted Kennedy Has Fought the Battles Long Enough that Showing Up is the Victory

What he said is secondary to the fact that he said it.

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DENVER—Tonight, words mattered a little bit less.

Ted Kennedy spoke well, covering familiar standards from universal healthcare to space travel to change, to the work, the hope, the dream, and another passing of the torch.

Little said will be remembered (though Caroline Kennedy's "He's your senator too" was pretty good). Here's what will be: That he was there, the unnatural patch of thinned hair on the back left side of his head serving as a grim reminder of what he's facing, and how much he's overcome just to be here tonight.

The other line that might linger—for better or worse—was his promise to be in the Senate when Obama is sworn in this January. If he is, it will mark another remarkable milestone.

Not surprisingly, the tribute video started and ended with Teddy Kennedy waxing poetic about the sea and then sailing upon it. I rather expected to see a clip of JFK's great line about the sea, but perhaps it would have struck too close to home. Speaking at a dinner for the America's Cup in September, 1962, JFK said:

I really don't know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it is because in addition to the fact that the sea changes and the light changes, and ships change, it is because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.

(The quote was classic JFK. My father, the late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., was the speechwriter for that talk. JFK said he'd heard the fact about salt percentage somewhere, but he couldn't remember the source. Dad said he was skeptical—it sounded too pat. But JFK was right and the passage remains gold.)