I was standing right in the middle of the Massachusetts delegation – to the left of the press riser, behind New York, in front of (John McCain’s) Arizona – during the tribute to Edward Kennedy. “This is very emotional for all of us,” Mayor Thomas Menino said before it began.
Ted Kennedy’s 1980 Presidential campaign remains a kind of Holy Grail experience for many of the state’s long-time Democrats. It is part of them in a way that the Dukakis, Tsongas, and Kerry campaigns are not; the strongest reaction from the delegation during the video tribute came in response to a circa 1980 Ted K pounding on the podium, demanding that his party embrace the goals and the rights that he believed in.
There were teary eyes by the end of the video tribute; there was an explosion when Ted came out on the stage. In all the rumoring, the anticipation was mixed with trepidation -- images of a debilitated man, a feeble shell of the old lion. But this was the lion, standing, walking, delivering his speech without trouble from the teleprompter, and working himself, and the delegates, into action.
"Teddy is the past, the present, and the future of the Democratic Party all wrapped up in one person," Congressman Ed Markey said to me immediately after the speech. "Every one of us [in the Massachusetts delegation] is in politics because of this family."
Tough-as-nails attorney general Martha Coakley fessed up when told she was seen watery-eyed. Congressman Ed Delahunt was visibly moved. More than one delegate said that the sight of him -- everyone had heard that Kennedy had come over his doctors' strenuous objections -- reminded them of the many times when Ted had been the strong one, compelling others forward, in the face of tragedy, grief, hardship, or defeat, personal and political.
The political was lost on nobody: Kennedy was telling his fellow Democrats that finding the way forward (through Barack Obama) meant that they must let go of their past political leaders, whether that meant him, or Jesse Jackson, or even the Clintons.
Congressman Barney Frank, unsurprisingly, was ready to jump into the political message immediately, with the emotional buzz still swarming. "I don't see how anybody can be discriminating, self-pitying, or complaining," Frank said, in a none-too-veiled swipe at Hillary die-hards, "when this man with his record defending everyone's rights, defies his doctors to come deliver this message."
Many of the Obamaohiles in the Massachusetts delegation echoed that sentiment later, in a party at Alto, a restaurant and bar a few blocks from the Pepsi Center. A few of the Hillary faithful could be overheard earlier, however, giving somewhat equivocal answers on that issue, and many of the most prominent were not at Alto. (Others were, including most notably senate president Therese Murray.) Kennedy united them all for a moment, but perhaps just that moment.