Your man the drunk was one of the few people in the plaza not aware that Edward Kennedy was coming off one of the worst weeks a member of his family had suffered in electoral politics since Honey Fitz hung 'em up. He had attempted to deal with Chappaquiddick on CBS and succeeded only in making Roger Mudd look like a combination of Sam Spade and F. Lee Bailey. (Chortled one cynical TV type: "Just think what would have happened with Mike Wallace; Teddy would be organizing Illinois for Carter right now.") The performance was so disastrous that even such Kennedy loyalists such as Mary McGrory and Jimmy Breslin skewered him in the public prints for three days afterward ("Kennedy, to me," wrote Breslin, "seemed insecure, which was fine, and insincere, which is maddening and unacceptable.")
As he stepped up on stage, surrounded by three generations of his family, and by as many generations of people who have come to look to it for leadership, Edward Kennedy did little to assuage the fears that he has gotten to this point very much on the strength of his surname – the fears that his candidacy is based on an untested assumption that any Kennedy, even one who may prove mediocre, is better than the field. (This charge, to be fair, is not a new one. In 1968, columnist McGrory leveled a similar one at Robert Kennedy, saying that he seemed to think that American youth belonged to him "by eminent domain.")
Edward's formal speaking style, - the one he uses for reading speeches – has none of John's forceful rhythms or Robert's passion. It is preacherly, so it was only natural that his greatest formal address should have been delivered in St. Patrick's Cathedral, at Robert Kennedy's funeral mass. (His extemporaneous speeches, by contrast, are often more powerful.) But when confronted with essentially banal material, as was the case at Faneuil Hall, he is incapable of rising above it.
"Before the last election," he said, "we were told that Americans were honest, loving, good, decent, and compassionate. Now, the people are blamed for every national ill, and scolded as greedy, wasteful, and mired in malaise." This was only part of the speech with any real teeth; a perfect repetition of Jimmy Carter's standard campaign address of 1976, right down to the order of the adjectives. Yet it was not flung at the incumbent the way it could have been; it was tossed away as the speech ambled toward a mystifying quote from Thomas Wolfe.
It may be that much of Kennedy's difficulty would disappear if he and his campaign apparatus weren't rusty. From a journalist's standpoint, the question-and-answer period that followed the announcement speech was a noble idea. Politically, though, particularly when placed in the context of his dreadful DBS showing, it made little sense at all. For some reason, Kennedy chose not to ride the emotional wave that was clearly his – the hall, after all, was ringed by people who had been gagging on their half chewed desires for about 11 years. Instead, he took questions that only succeeded in reinforcing the image left by the weekend. He alternately appeared miserably briefed (a staff lapse to which Kennedys do not usually fall victim) and completely unsure.