Boston, Columns, Politics
Oct 27, 1994
MIKE BARNICLE IN THE BOSTON GLOBE: Ted Was There When It Counted MIKE BARNICLE IN THE BOSTON GLOBE: Ted Was There When It Counted MIKE BARNICLE IN THE BOSTON GLOBE: Ted was there when it counted

Phew! Good thing Ted Kennedy didn’t decide to throw his weight around the other night because then he would’ve absolutely crushed Mitt ”I’m Talking As Fast As My Nervous Little Motor Mouth Will Move” Romney. That collision would’ve looked as if an 18-wheeler loaded with dumpsters had plowed into one of those teeney-weeney old Nash Metropolitans. As it was, he slapped him silly. Kennedy slam-dunked the bragging Boy Scout from Belmont so often that The Mittster is down to a couple of options prior to tonight’s debate: Either jump-ugly at the senior Senator over, ahh, the character issue, or cut his losses and save a pile of dough for another run at another time because this one is halfway through that last revolution in the toilet. How quickly things change.

Seems like it was only days ago that all the haters and a lot of the professional thumb-sucking pundits were writing Kennedy off. He was too old, too fat, too dumb, too tongue-tied, too entrenched, too isolated, too removed, too arrogant, too elitist, too tied in to the status quo to win anything.

Listening to them, you half-expected Kennedy to walk out on stage at Faneuil Hall, peer at the crowd and holler: “This Bud’s on me.” Or maybe demand that the moderator hit him with a pinch and a couple of cubes.

A funny thing happened, though: Romney arrived with a knot the size of an official NBA basketball right where he fastens the top button of his hand-made shirt.

He is a nice fellow, a pleasant man. He is handsome, polite, glib, smiling, smart, rich, goes through life without a single hair out of place, waves at poor people one day a week and thinks a walk on the wild side means drinking a cherry Coke.

However, he has no idea how much his health plan will cost taxpayers and sure isn’t responsible for anything that occurs at some plant he helped purchase. Why should he know that? He’s only the owner.

Kennedy, on the other hand, has managed to become a somewhat sympathetic figure. Before Tuesday, many observers were convinced the night would be a disaster for the senator, whose use of language manages to make the late Frank Fontaine or Professor Irwin Corey sound like Abba Eban or Adlai Stevenson.

They were ceding the thing to Romney on appearances alone. His waist size equals the number of years Kennedy has served in the US Senate. He has never suffered so much as a pimple, never mind any personal pain and, according to his own answers, he is pretty much without a flaw.

Meanwhile, the negative build-up and dread surrounding Kennedy’s difficulty in finding verbs to go with nouns and objects, plus the added burden of putting action words in their proper place throughout a spoken English sentence, so lowered the expectations that the mere fact he didn’t fall off the stage into the audience was a victory.

And you know what? It was great. It was a victory for old guys, for out-of- shape guys, for guys who are counted out before the bell, for guys folks figured would never hit in the clutch.

Ted Kennedy won because he is stubborn in his beliefs. You may not like his views, and you may not like him, but at least he’s not running around suddenly seizing upon the electric chair or welfare cheats as the trendy ticket he needs for a return trip to the Senate.

He’s the government guy, the go-to-guy when you’re looking to have the feds pick up the cost of 16 additional weeks of unemployment compensation, get you the extra bounce in child care and Head Start appropriations, get money back from Washington to help lower astronomical MWRA water bills. Maybe you think stuff like that is a bunch of liberal horseshirt.

He doesn’t. He makes no apologies for who he is and what he believes. He has a philosophy that isn’t pushed around by pollsters. Perhaps some of it is dated, but the man is consistent.

He’s 62 and looks it. He has lived through a cargo of grief, and inflicted a lot of it upon himself. He has had some terrible difficulties and they have not been hidden. His life has been a long, public sorrowful mystery of the rosary.

Ted Kennedy is many things, but none of them is a secret. He might be in the back of his van this morning eating quarter-pounders and fries between every stop and it wouldn’t go unnoticed. (I never thought ears put on weight until I saw his on TV Tuesday.) Why, if you put Bill Parcells and Kennedy on either end of the Boston Public Library, they could serve as human bookends for a whole building.

For a long time, people were down on him, figuring he was afraid to take his turn at bat against a formidable young foe. Well, the other night Ted Kennedy gave the young guy a good old-fashioned arse-whipping because he still wants to win.