The Wisconsin primary was a scramble anyhow, a frozen ordeal that started in February and cost the whole of March until the voting on the fifth of April. The Kennedys needed Wisconsin to prove that they could win in white-bread America. March is a lion of a month that far north among the Great Lakes prairies. There are no white-tie receptions in Wisconsin. All Hubert Humphrey, the straw opponent, had, really, was his bus to ride in and the fact that he seemed to understand these Finnish ice fishermen and Croatian-Slovene brewery workers, knew dairy politics and resort problems: This might be enough.

Bob Healy, subsequently the executive editor of The Boston Globe, tells the story of the winter afternoon, shortly before the primary ended, when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was soaking his aching back and swollen right hand in bathwater in a motel: Teddy was around the suite, fidgeting, sure that there was still something he could do, some way to spend the time effectively. John Kennedy asked Healy to keep Ted company while he distributed whatever handbills were around out there wherever he found a likely place to use them up. Ted Kennedy and Healy put coats on, drove around the sanded and potholed network of the local Class A road system for a while, and wound up in a shopping center parking lot. Ted Kennedy grabbed an armload of leaflets, prowled among the cars while snapping the material under the windshield wiper blades or through whatever windows he found open.

Most of the windows were snowy or frosted, and just as Kennedy was running out of enthusiasm he was able to get the back door of a four-door sedan ajar a little and was reaching across to drop a leaflet on an inside seat when Healy tells it best–“The biggest goddamn bulldog in the world appeared from behind the transmission tunnel and just about took Ted’s arm off cleanly at the elbow. He jerked his forearm out of there in a hell of a hurry, of course, but I could see that the bulldog had just about torn off the sleeve and had sunk his teeth pretty nicely into Ted. I said, ‘Jesus, let’s get you to a doctor or something,’ but he mumbled something about no, we don’t have time, it doesn’t hurt anyway…. What he was really saying was that he was a Kennedy, and you can’t hurt one of them, of course. But I’ll tell you something…” the impish Healy, feet onhis desk, finished his story off with one of those smothered Irish smiles. “It would have hurt Jawn all right. He wasn’t that much of a Kennedy.”

TAGS: , , , , , , , ,

BURTON HERSH has long been regarded as Edward Kennedy’s principal biographer and is the author of such widely respected nonfiction as Bobby and J. Edgar, The Shadow President, The Old Boys: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA, and The Mellon Family. A veteran journalist, he has contributed to such publications as Esquire, The Washingtonian, and The New York Times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *