Nearly 42 years ago, in September 1962, I took the MTA (now the T) from Harvard Square to Park Street and then walked down Tremont Street to Edward Kennedy's election headquarters on primary night. (At least that is how I remember it: this may be one of the cases when you conflate two or three experiences and get the facts wrong; but the gist of this is I think right.) I was a freshman at Harvard, at 18 suddenly able to navigate the subways of a big city and go where I wanted to instead of asking my parents permission to drive one of their cars from our home in the suburbs of Detroit; and I was a young man intensely interested in politics delighted to be in hyperpolitical Massachusetts. Kennedy, at 30, was seeking to win the Senate seat his brother John had held and which a family friend named Benjamin Smith had occupied for two years as a placeholder until the younger Kennedy reached the constitutional minimum age. In the primary he had to endure opposition from Massachusetts Attorney General Edward McCormack, nephew of U.S. House Speaker John McCormack, who at a memorable debate said to the young Kennedy (as nearly as I can remember the words), "If your name was Edward Moore, your candidacy would be a joke." (Edward Moore was the family retainer who was the namesake of Ted Kennedy, the last of nine children born the year his mother turned 42.) Edward Kennedy persevered and, in the only offyear election of John F. Kennedy's presidency, was nominated by a wide margin. His qualifications for the job were paper thin; he was inarticulate in debate; almost no one I knew at Harvard supported him. In person he looked impossibly young, slim, muscular and beautiful. I didn't know it, and I suspect Kennedy didn't know it that night, but a star was born: a senator now in his fifth decade of service who has been the great tribune for liberal causes, and a skillful and politically canny and productive legislator. Who'd 'a' thunk it?
On Tuesday night the night the broadcast networks decided not to cover the Democratic National Convention at all Kennedy appeared again. Oldtimers in the audience could remember the 1968 convention, when Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley tried to get Kennedy to take the nomination at age 36, and the 1980 convention, when Kennedy, defeated by Jimmy Carter in the primaries, defiantly proclaimed "the dream will never die" and then evaded Jimmy Carter's attempt to hold his hand aloft at the final photo-op on Thursday night. This Tuesday night's Edward Kennedy was different: 72 years old, gray of hair and lined of face, somewhat below his maximum girth but still grotesquely larger than most practicing politicians. He is well on his way to becoming the longest-serving senator ever: He has already announced he will run for reelection in 2006, he will exceed Strom Thurmond's record of 48 years in 2010, and he will exceed Robert Byrd's tenure (now 46 years), if and when he survives Byrd, by two months short of four years.