The passing of Ted Kennedy this week evokes a particular personal memory from decades back, when we were both younger and leaner.
One day in 1960 I was heading home from San Jose State to Los Gatos and went the back way, driving my '49 Dodge coupe up Saratoga Avenue past the small community of Monte Sereno, where retired admirals lived. The town was notable for its postage-stamp-sized City Hall and a flagpole that one admiral personally installed to save money. He was quite proud of that.
There in the smallish parking lot was a group of people with a dark-haired young fellow vigorously exhorting the crowd from some kind of raised platform. Being a budding journalist, I pulled over, walked back and discovered Ted Kennedy campaigning in a broad New England accent on behalf of his older brother, Jack, who was running for U.S. president.
I observed that he was standing precariously on a small metal folding chair, and I wondered how he managed to keep his balance while gesturing with his arms. He wore a dark three-piece, vested suit and was lean enough to impress me and not collapse the chair.
I took some notes and he bid farewell, was applauded, climbed down from the chair and into a limo parked nearby.
In the morning I called the editor of the local paper, the then-daily Los Gatos Times-Saratoga Observer, Gene Johnson, with whom I had done an internship.
I asked if she had all she needed about "Teddy's" appearance.
Yes, she said, and then commented on what an impressive turnout it was. I asked what she meant. "Well, 500 people is a good turnout," she said, adding that was the figure supplied by a local dentist who was chair of the Democratic Club in town.
"He told you 500?" I asked, incredulous. "I counted 55 heads."
The good dentist, whom I had once interviewed for the high school student paper, had multiplied the turnout by a factor of 10.
It was my first real lesson in the world of realpolitik.
In this case a good community-based person fudged for some perceived political advantage in a numbers/image game. Maybe "lied" is more accurate for his gross, manipulative deception.
What it cost him was a forever loss of credibility with the local newspaper, and me, of course.
I have always kept that experience in mind when dealing with politically minded persons of the left or right, conservative or liberal -- or anyone more committed to a cause than they might be to accuracy or truth.
It is a microcosmic example of the kind of corruption that grows with larger doses of power and influence, where people see short-term advantages as more important than long-term trust. It is the seed of cynicism on the part of many Americans, while others -- perhaps the majority -- seem to remain as gullible as ever.
Kennedy likely had nothing to do with the deception -- unless he advised the dentist to multiply the turnout. Ah, my cynicism shows. I don't really believe he did. I believe the dentist just succumbed to temptation when he thought he was the sole source for the story.
Both he and Ted are now deceased, and the editor is far away in a Northern California retirement, last I heard, and I am the sole source for the above anecdote. Take it or leave it.