sardines, not just on the floor but around the balconies as well. Seven-thirty. Kennedy is late, but no one leaves, despite inadequate air-conditioning that has us all sweating and laughing. Common discomfort has a way of keeping us together. The press has occupied a roped-off section near a platform at the front of the room and the standard battle for best vantage point is underway between TV camera crews and newspaper scribblers. The platform, or dais, accommodates a couple dozen Kennedy backers from San Antonio, including Paul Moreno, chairman of the Mexican-American legislative caucus, Carlos Escamillo of the Edgewood school board, Judge Albert Pella, attorney Ruben Sandoval, and state Reps. Joe Hernandez and Gonzalo Barrientos. Another famous San Antonio figure is also near the stage, guarding it: officer Roberto Maldonado, a hefty man shot repeatedly at close range by the sniper last year at Fiesta. Metal fragments still permeate his body. Bernardo Eureste, a city council member, informs the crowd that Kennedy, coming in from Corpus Christi \(where he was also greeted enthusi a . again, a few people make time-killing speeches with bi-lingual translation. The room smells good: sweat and smoke and excitement. At 8:20, nearly an hour late, Eureste announces that the motorcade from the airport \(San Antonio freeways are thick with police, especially along the over”We want Kennedy . . . We want Kennedy.” Sandoval. among the best attorneys in San Antonio, keeps it going at the microphone: “What do we want him for?” . . . “For President”. . . . You could light a match with the intensity of emotion. You could save a thousand souls for Jesus . . . and just then the side door opens and first enters Joan, dazzling in her blondeness, and Ted right behind. This is as close to watching the entrance of a knight on a white horse, a fair god at Tenochtitlan as I’ve seen not in a racial context a context of palpable temporal salvation. Kennedy looks tired but it is obvious he can’t believe the exuberance or size of his audience \(outside, the plaza and the quick glance, in the manner of married couples. Delight outstrips fatigue. Fred Hofheinz, Kennedy’s Texas campaign manager, sits next to another blonde whom I mistake for Valerie Perrine but who is really Joan’s sister. Now comes building-rattling applause. Cesar Chavez, in a light blue, loose cam pesino shirt, regal in composure, is introduced, having flown in with Kennedy from Corpus. Quickly, in his way, Chavez presents Kennedy as “the next president of the United States.” Together, for a moment neither too long nor too brief, Kennedy and Chavez share the podium, then Chavez sits down and Kennedy peels off his dark blue suit coat and yells, hoarse, “Viva La Huelga.” It is the farm workers rallying cry. It works like magic. “I saw a Carter supporter on the way here,” Kennedy begins, “I invited him to come to our rally ’cause they don’t have a rally to go to of their own.” The cheers were a counterpoint to a bitter issue that developed earlier that day. President Carter had flown into the Brooke Army Medical Center in the morning to visit the injured crewmen of the failed Iranian rescue attempt. Kennedy’s staffers were outraged at the coincidence of Carter’s timing but what could they say? Carter, who otherwise hasn’t given Texas a tumble, had finessed Kennedy’s arrival in Texas by an allegedly non-political action, criticism of which would make Kennedy look very bad. \(Kennedy himself later visited the servicemen typically, it was Kennedy’s visit that reporters atvisit was fully eclipsed at El Mercado. \(Even later, when Rosalynn visited San Antonio, she drew a meagre audience of Kennedy warmed to his crowd like an old time political stumper, an evangelist, a rock mesmerizer Mick Jagger gone older and serious. He talked to them one on one, joked with them: “You, what’s your name.”. . . . laughing at his own interaction . . . “we’ve got to keep this crowd under control here.” “We have to get back to human terms,” he bellows, his voice raspy from having said the words often but sharp from meaning what he says. “That is what the Democratic Party has historically represented and that is what Jimmy Carter has turned his back on.” Kennedy attacks Carter’s economic programs and lack of leadership: “I’m tired of this handwringing. . . . I believe we can do better and we will do better.” He rakes Carter for his oil policy, citing Mobil’s use of its profits supposedly for exploration to purchase Montgomery Ward for $2 billion. “How much oil do you think they found in the aisles of the Montgomery Ward department store?” Carter’s biggest national failure, Kennedy believes, is his inaction in producing a comprehensive health care system perhaps too “soft” an idea for Carter’s neoconservatism. In the Valley, says Kennedy, sweating and mottled by the heat in the hall, if a worker, documented or no, comes home to find a sick child, he must calculate: “Is the child 30 or 40 or 50 dollars sick?” Then Kennedy hones the point with reference to the cozy, and free, medical service provided by the U.S. government to the members of Congress and the executive branch \(he might have good enough for Jimmy Carter and Fritz Mondale and John Tower and Lloyd Bentsen, it’s good enough for you.” It’s a short speech. Everyone is wilted and hungry and Kennedy knows it. He has hit no new issues, for example made nothing of the Iranian mess and, more surprisingly, said nothing about his trip earlier in the day to Mexico for a 90minute meeting with President Jose Lopez Portillo. When he is finished the effect is anti-climactic. He backs away from the podium. In the confusion a band begins another song. Apparently Kennedy has decided to go outside. A ripple of tension crosses the normally placid faces of the Secret Service team. Outside, in the cool night air, word spreads. The people have been waiting two and three hours and because the outside sound system is inadequate they haven’t heard much of the speeches inside. There is a mood of restless disappointment. Kennedy, emerging with his protectors from the east door of the hall onto the plaza, breaks through the leading edge of onlookers. Everyone wants to touch him. You know why. They want to touch him. Desperados, stuck in the system. Good citizens, $2.90 a hour if that. Fearing god on Sunday, the Man all week long. They want to touch him. A microphone is hastily set up but it’s bad, too, so Kennedy drives forward across the plaza, his guards two paces ahead. Kennedy shakes as many hands as he can. One of them belongs to a mariachi, whose eyes cloud with tears at the moment of contact. You want to know about mystique? You come to San Antonio. You want to know if the poor, the economic invisibles, the stubbornly hopeful, are still among us if the old coalitions of the Democratic Party are but waiting to be tapped go to San Antonio. Go to Corpus Christi. Go anywhere in South Texas, beyond the realm of the corporate life, into the hearts of the people. That’s what Kennedy means, here, in 1980. A chance to be ignored no more not by Carter and not by Reagan. Even if the odds of that chance are 5-to-I you go for it. You have to. 12 MAY 23, 1980
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