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TRAMONTANE/ Julius Lester The most remarkable story of this election year is easily that of Ted Kennedy. Indeed, he may be one of the most extraordinary political figures in many decades. Last November when he announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, the polls indicated that it was his. Kennedy’s campaign began, however, three days after the taking of the hostages in Iran, and as the seizure of the American Embassy continued, President Carter rallied Americans around the flag, and himself as flag-bearer. Any hint of criticism of the President was akin to treason, and Ted Kennedy was close to being a traitor merely by contesting Carter’s renomination. A “smart” politician would have withdrawn from the race, and certainly Kennedy, at age 49, could have done so without loss of face or damage to his political career. He didn’t, and the media and much of the American public reacted to his persistence with an appalling self-righteous viciousness. Mary Jo Kopechne was resurrected from the waters off Chappaquiddick. Joan Kennedy’s alcoholism was attributed to Ted’s alleged relations with other women. Thus, the character of Kennedy became the issue of the Democratic primaries. How selective memory can be when it so chooses. Anyone else whose two brothers had been killed in the presidency or while pursuing it would have been extolled as courageous to seek that office himself. Kennedy was not. Any other man whose son had had a leg amputated and chose to be single parent to that child so that his wife could live alone, reconstruct her life, and return to school, would have been portrayed in a movie by Dustin Hoffman. This example of Kennedy’s character was conveniently ignored even by feminists. Yet, throughout the primaries, polls indicated that an overwhelming majority of Democratic voters agreed with Kennedy’s views on the economy and other issues, but voted for Carter because they “trusted” him, because he was, in their eyes, a “good man” and Kennedy was not. Such polls confirmed what some of us have suspected for a while: A well-informed electorate does not vote on issues, but personalities. They will vote against a man who offers the vision of the future with which they agree to vote for the one who offers nothing except a compatible image. Thus, the electoral process becomes transformed into a contest between advertising men, with the one projecting the most likeable image of a candidate manipulating the electorate into making that man President. After Watergate, there was a feverish madness in the land which demanded that political figures appear as if they had the sanction of the Holy Trinity. And lo, and behold, out of the peanut fields of Georgia came Jimmy Carter, looking like the Bible salesman who rings the doorbell while I’m watching the Super Bowl and after I tell him where he can shove his Bible with its exclusive photographs of the resurrection, he goes home and feels virtuous because he is suffering for the glory of God. In the Democratic primaries, the voters did not distinguish between personality and character, did not understand that character does not exude sanctimoniousness like a cheap cologne, or grin when no one has told a joke. The difference between personality and character was evident in the appearances and speeches of Carter and Kennedy at the Democratic Convention. Kennedy, the loser, looked like the victor. The victor looked like a salesman waiting to hand out free samples of a new dog shampoo. The primary distinction between personality and character is that of passion, not only in the sense of strong emotion, but in the deeper and original meaning of the word: To hurt, to suffer. It is in passion that character is formed the tragedy of Chappaquiddick, a wife’s struggle against alcoholism and to know herself separate from her husband, the murders of two brothers, the parenting of a handicapped child, being surrogate father to the children of the deceased brothers. In rejecting Kennedy, Democratic voters also rejected the sufferings, tragedies, humiliations and experiences of shame in their own lives. They rejected what is of substance within them passion for a Sunday School image of goodness. I trust Kennedy because he is fallible and human and has endured his passion, and such passion comes to us all. I distrust Carter because he puts his fallibility on display, as if so doing makes him good and honest. It only serves to make his honesty and goodness suspect. Ted Kennedy lost nothing this year. But how many Democrats left New York, how many Americans turned off their television sets after Kennedy left the podium at the convention’s close, and wondered if they had lost more than they can ever know? classified COMMUNITY ORGANIZERSACORN needs organizers to work with low and moderate income families in 16 states for political and economic justice. Direct action on neighborhood deterioration, utility rates, taxes. health care. Tangible results and enduring rewardslong hours and low pay. Training provided. Contact ACORN, 503 West Mary. FED UP IN AUSTIN? Get a “SAVE AUSTIN … DUMP DAN for starters” bumpersticker. $1.25 tax included. SWW Pub. Co., Box 5873, Austin 78763. MAKE REAL TEXAS HAMBURGERS. Don’t be fooled by imitations. Details $2.00. Recipe, Box 7174, Tyler, Texas 75711. SIMPLE WILL. Instructions with sample. $3.00. Roy Publication, Box 2084, Beaumont, Texas 77704. FREEWHEELING BICYCLES. 2404 San Gabriel, Austin. 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