Becoming Ted Kennedy

Joe Klein recalls the early days of Sen. Edward Kennedy's political career, when he was terrified by his brothers' deaths and legacy, convinced he would never live up to them, and uneasy on the campaign trails of his Senate, and later his presidential, runs. Ted Kennedy didn't really become Ted Kennedy--the one he became later, the esteemed lion of the Senate--until it was apparent he wasn't going to be the Democratic nominee for president in 1980.

Klein writes:

He had been every bit as shaky and unhappy on the stump as I'd seen him when he ran for Senate. He had blown a 35-point lead. He had been clobbered by Jimmy Carter in Iowa. And now, in New Hampshire, we landed in a small plane and an aide rushed up with the bad news about the early exit polls. He was losing again. "So much for the well-oiled Kennedy machine," he joked, and -- I swear -- almost immediately became a different person. He gave a looser, more passionate and compelling speech that night. The nomination was clearly lost, but he continued to fight on, stubbornly, disastrously for the Democratic Party, but he actually seemed to be enjoying it, for a change. He gave the speech of his life, "The Dream Will Never Die," at the Democratic Convention that year, and began the far more satisfying Second Act of his life.

Kennedy liked the small rooms of the Senate better than the big stages of national campaigns, Klein writes. It just took him a while to find that out.