has been great fuss in the last few days over broken hearts in Washington.
To uncoil the story from tabloid compression, what we have is 1)
President Bush and Senator Kennedy in joint embrace when the education
bill was passed. 2) Mr. Bush saying very pleasant things about Mr.
Kennedy a few days later when giving a speech. And 3) Teddy in a
speech at the National Press Club, blasting W.'s tax-cut bill and
calling for its (effective) repeal. Causing the world to wonder:
Do we have here an act of gross infidelity? How can two people appear
so close and, days later, divide so sharply?
The question was raised by one commentator in the context of the
whole matter of the alleged incongruity of extra-ideological friendships.
A few years ago, much attention was paid to the friendship of Orrin
Hatch with the same Sen. Kennedy. After heated Senate hearings,
Orrin was spending his time comforting Justice-designate Clarence
Thomas. During the day, Sen. Kennedy was ranting against Thomas's
confirmation. In between, so to speak at cocktail hour, Kennedy
and Hatch were best friends, singing each other's delights to a
press confounded by the heterodox friendship.
I have run into the question myself.
I have never before spoken of it, but can't think why not, 30 years
after the event.
It was February 22, 1972, in Switzerland, where my wife and I dwell
during that month, pursuing ski slopes and book deadlines. The call
came in from longtime friend Professor John Kenneth Galbraith in
adjacent Gstaad. Would we like it if Sen. Kennedy came to us for
a drink later in the day?
By all means. And did he ever come. He brought with him his wife,
his sister, his buddy Sen. John Tunney from California, Sen. Tunney's
wife, and a Spaniard who was a member of the court. That was 7 P.M.
At 9 P.M., they were still there. Something had to be done about
food. I called a local restaurant with modest accommodations and
asked if they could squeeze in a party of nine people. They agreed,
and off we went for cheese fondue. After eating, I asked if they
would like to join us in a postprandial bout at the painting studio
on our bottom floor. Indeed they would. Every one of them was given
a paintbrush and an easel. I went to fetch a bottle of champagne
and, easel and paint brushes clutched in the other hand, reached
to put the bottle on the ping-pong table we used for our canvases.
I managed to affix dabs of mercury red, cerulean blue, yellow amber,
raw umber, and ivory white onto the rear end of Jean Kennedy Smith,
future ambassador to Ireland. She had been leaning over her canvas,
and now the seat of her ski pants looked like an early Seurat, a
study in pointillism. But nothing could disturb the jollity of the
evening. My wife supplied a spare set of pants and dammed our river
of hospitality only when Teddy asked if he could borrow a car to
take the gang home, and she said no, there was a bridge between
us and Gstaad.
They left sometime
after midnight, and we learned from J. K. Galbraith a long time
later that this was Teddy's 40th birthday. Once every decade after
our bacchanalia we crossed paths, and the greeting was convivial,
though come to think of it, the last time around, his handshake
was a study in curtness. I must have done something right in my
column that morning.
Senator Goldwater several times acclaimed Teddy as a conscientious
and informed senator, and the two were friendly, if not friends.
The year we entertained Teddy I otherwise devoted to blasting presidential
candidate George McGovern who, in later years, I frequently debated
and learned that his ideological toughness cohabited with a warmth
and personal generosity that greatly exceeded his political skills.
There isn't any reason why President Bush has to renounce a friendship
with Ted Kennedy, just so long as he makes it clear to the American
public that Mr. Kennedy is an utter ass when prescribing policy,
and a distillery of meanness when he goes after a target, as with
Robert Bork. There are those who frown on friendship across the
aisle as if it were the subversion of a Manichaean divide
how can you be nice to Lucifer?
Well, Lucifer has his winning ways, which is of course why one must
always beware of him. We angels have to keep our eyes on things.
Semper paratus. Amen.