The Candidate I Want
In this season of our discontent, when anyone with even a thready connection to reality knows that Trump is a Hitler wannabe, and the Democrats have not, among a choice of more than 20 contenders, been able to field anyone remotely appealing, I find myself musing on whom I would really like to see run this country.
Now, right off, I need to say that the Kennedys have given at home as well as at the office and are under no obligation to rise to their storied past. Someone else must take up the mantel. But they did set the template.
The formula is astonishingly simple. If you’re rich enough, you don’t have to do things for money. And that allows you the scope to do the right thing. And the right thing is the thing that does the most good for the most people, but also looks after the least. Nemo resideo. The Army motto. Leave no one behind.
Couple that with a credo that says there’s nothing wrong with humble labor, and you’ve got a heroic leader. John F. Kennedy’s service in World War II went above and beyond. As a lieutenant commanding a small torpedo boat (PT-109) that was sunk by a Japanese destroyer, he took on great personal risk and no small amount of personal pain to save the men of his unit, swimming through enemy-occupied waters in the great Pacific Ocean on and off for nearly a week until everyone was safe. John Kennedy embodied noblesse oblige — the implied responsibility of the privileged to act with generosity and nobility toward those less privileged. Such behavior was mother’s milk to the Kennedy family.
I’ve met a few Kennedys over the years. I shook Teddy’s hand on his front lawn in Hyannis. It was a big paw. I was standing in for my dad, who gave a lot of money to Massachusetts Democrats, but didn’t like attending the thank-you affairs. I’ve seen Joe III speak a few times.
But there was one other encounter that illustrated for me why the Kennedys are who they are.
I was waiting at the airport in Rye, NY, for a short hop on a small plane to Boston’s Logan International. They called my plane, and I began shuffling toward the gate. At that moment, a stewardess who looked mildly frustrated and quite familiar with the situation, came into the terminal from the plane, calling, “Mr. Kennedy! Mr. Kennedy! The plane is boarding!”
A distracted man emerged from the crowd and made his way toward the plane. It turns out that he and I were the only two people on the flight (this was pre-9/11, clearly). I don’t recall any longer which Kennedy it was. I was already seated in the front when he made his way to the back. I don’t recall the exact year, but we were in the middle of some long Republican administration. I really wanted to speak with him, to ask him, please, can you save us? But some higher part of my nature said, leave him alone. He probably gets mobbed everywhere he goes.
Turning in my seat, I observed him from time to time. Whereas I was in the computer industry and had the latest notebook out on my tray, all his things were old fashioned: a pad of paper, a pencil, a leather satchel, books. He was working on something.
When we arrived at Logan, he got off before me, carrying his satchel and a suit bag. I stepped into the terminal a few yards behind him.
There was an elegant, understated couple waiting for him, along with a chauffeur in livery. The woman wore a monochrome dress and a simple necklace. The man, an impeccable dark suit. They were both thin. The smell of money was unmistakable.
The chauffeur was almost a caricature of himself. An older black man, he was two-thirds the height of the others. His suit was ill-fitting, and his hat was slightly awry. He ran up almost obsequiously, shouting “Mr. Kennedy! Mr. Kennedy! Can I take that bag for you?”
And this is where the camera slows down. From where I stood, about twenty feet back, I could observe and hear everything. Kennedy had the satchel in his left hand. His suit bag, which he was holding by the emerging hangers, was thrown over his right shoulder. He was taking long strides, and the little chauffeur almost had to run to keep up with him. At that moment, I noticed how broad his back was. It seemed to expand before my eyes.
It was like that moment in Odysseus’s court when the beggar “girded his old rags about his loins” and revealed such preternaturally strong limbs that the revelers enjoying his wife Penelope’s hospitality experienced a brief moment’s disquiet. To quote Homer: “[O]ne would turn towards his neighbour saying, ‘The stranger has brought such a thigh out of his old rags that there will soon be nothing left of Irus.’” Irus was the other beggar there that evening, a man who had insulted the disguised hero and forced him to fight. Odysseus beat the fellow soundly before dragging him to the outer courtyard.
Kennedy shrugged the suit bag slightly higher onto his shoulder and said, “Nah, I got it.”
It was as if he were saying: the strong backs should carry more weight, not less, even though custom would have him relinquish the bag to the servant whose job it was to carry such bags. And he made that little shrugging gesture without a thought. It was just the water he had swum in since birth.
That’s who I want as my candidate for President of the United States. Not that specific guy, but a guy like that.