I was at Madison Square Garden the night that Kennedy spoke those words, as part of one of the greatest speeches that I have been privileged to hear with my own ears. I didn't intend to hear them. I was tired, having worked the convention all day as part of the ABC convention coverage team of reporters.
I was sitting in the back, in the reporters area, because Sam Donaldson wanted time on the floor. We had to rotate on the convention floor, and I gladly gave up my time, because I'd filed several stories that day and really just wanted to get back to my hotel, at 7th and 52nd. The Sheraton Center was six blocks away and as I had done every day in New York, I'd walked to the Garden, because it was quicker and faster than trying to drive.
At that time of night, I would have preferred to drive back, but, you know, NY gridlock is real gridlock. So as I prepared for my late evening stroll, Ted Kennedy came to the microphones to give his concession speech the night before Jimmy Carter took the nomination for the second time.
The reporter's area was always a noisy place, after all we were working filing stories, writing stories, BS-ing with our friends that we hadn't seen since the last major news broke where ever in the world. It was especially never quiet when politicians rose to speak. We'd heard the speeches over and over. Usually the air rang with witty quips or jokes about the politician and who he was screwing at the time, and Ted Kennedy was no exception.
Except that night. Within a few seconds of opening his mouth, the whole room got silent and stayed that way to the last word. Kennedy had gotten the attention of the very jaded press corps. We turned on our tape recorders and sat back and listened, really listened. To use that old cliché about hearing a pin drop, well, you could, it was that quiet in the cavernous room. It didn't seem as if any of us breathed during the entire speech.
And after it was over, there was a collective “exhale,” with many of us having the feeling that the convention was nominating the wrong man for president.
In retrospect, I don't think so. Ted was not cut out to be president. He was cut out to be what he was, the major motivator on Capitol Hill for us little folk. His name is on more than 3000 pieces of legislation on civil rights, health care and economics benefiting the people, not the corporations. He is the last of those who actually believed they were sent there to work for us. He was made to be a Senator and that's what he was.
Prior to that speech in 1980, I met the Senator and his son Ted junior in 1978, shortly after Ted the younger lost his leg to cancer. They were both engaging and a bit overwhelming for me. I was cool, but I was actually standing next to, talking to, shaking hands with one of the legends behind the myth that was Camelot. Chappaquidick aside, I will never forget those feelings or memories. I remember every word he said to me that day.
Kennedy's legacy to America is health care reform. He didn't live to see it passed. But I do hope that Congress will pass it in his memory as living testament to the man that he was.
May you find peace, Senator. You've earned it.