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RIP Edward Kennedy 1932-2009

Thomas F. Roeser 27 August 2009 One Comment

As a parting salute to Old Ted, I’ll relate my own dealing with him-in 1977 when I had been spectacularly unsuccessful landing a Kennedy fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy Institute of Politics. I was 47 and a veep of Quaker Oats and wanted to get the fellowship which would be the first time a business lobbyist ever got a fellowship in that prestigious institute. Having come off a stint as a liberal with the Commerce Department, I thought I could sew up the appointment by getting several liberal sponsors: so I got Newton Minow, JFK’s old FCC chairman; UN ambassador Andrew Young, about whom I produced a film documentary on his congressional race which was financed by Quaker and aired on NBC; then Rep. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) It wasn’t enough.

Disgusted, I visited with the assistant executive director of the Kennedy Institute of Politics who was Doris Kearns Goodwin, a Ph.D who was preparing her first book of reminiscences during his close internship with Lyndon Johnson. I had tried twice before to get a fellowship and she signaled that I was about to be turned down a third time. I asked her why. She said the Institute was not about to name as a fellow a corporate lobbyist. I asked why not in the name of God? Corporate lobbyists have been prevalent in U. S. politics since the nation’s founding. But she didn’t have much of an answer, being a lefty herself who was deeply suspicious of corporate lobbyists who were Republican.

“Look,” she said, tiring of my importuning. “The final say-so comes from the Senator [Sen. Ted Kennedy]. If you want to, you can see him when he stops in here next Wednesday but don’t think necessarily that’ll get you in.”

I flew back to Cambridge Tuesday night, got a room and met Kennedy at about 10 a.m. Wednesday. He was unimpressed until I told him that while I was waiting to join Quaker as an executive, I was set up to travel with Sen. Everett Dirksen on his listening tour throughout Illinois in 1964. Kennedy perked up his ears because Dirksen was a good friend of JFK when both were in the Senate and helped John Kennedy inestimably after Kennedy got to the White House.

I wish I could say that my depth and breadth of government got me the fellowship but it didn’t. It was a by-chance mention of one of Dirksen’s prime scatological expostulations. I told Teddy that Dirksen used to refer to people he thought were stupid…including Victor Smith the then GOP state chairman… as being “dumb as dogshit.” I said I had never before imagined how dog excrement could be used to explain one’s lack of intellectual acuity but nevertheless it seemed illustrative.

Ted Kennedy exploded with laughter and laughed so hard I thought he would never stop. He then said:

“You know-both my brothers used that expression and I always wondered where they got it! It must have been from Old Ev! I’ll be damned.”

He wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes and said, “Okay, you’re in. Tell Doris you’re in. That story did it.”

Tom Roeser is the Chairman of the Editorial Board at the Chicago Daily Observer and former fellow of the John F. Kenney School of Government at Harvard.

One Comment »

  • Chris Robling said:

    Great story.

    Thanks, Tom.

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