"WHERE'S THE rest of him?" I asked in a review (American Spectator, October) of "The Last Brother," Joe McGinniss' controversial biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Clever me. That's the title of Ronald Reagan's autobiography.
The point was that in addition to the well-publicized charges of plagiarism and falsification, McGinniss' book deserved condemnation because though it claimed to be about "the most significant aspects of Teddy Kennedy's life," it only dealt with his life through 1969.
It is in the 24 years since 1969 that this Kennedy's life has become truly significant. His career in the Senate has earned him high marks from across the political spectrum.
Adam Clymer, an old Sun hand now at the New York Times, is working on a political biography of Senator Kennedy. He says he believes he is "a giant in the history of the Senate."
Cal Thomas, the conservative syndicated columnist, wrote on the Opinion * Commentary page (Aug. 5), "The 'last brother'. . . could turn out to be the best."
What has Kennedy done to deserve this and similar praise?
For one thing he has survived. Seniority is still an important element of power and influence in the Senate. He's the third most senior Democrat, now in his 31st Senate year. That means committee and subcommittee chairmanships, big staffs and -- IOUs. A senator can do a lot of favors over 31 years. You also learn the legislative short cuts and pressure points.
For another thing, he is, after all "a Kennedy." That means a lot of the best and the brightest liberal idealists want to help him -- out of a sense of history. His staffs are not only big, they're good. And there are Kennedyites elsewhere in government and the professions and business who will drop everything to help when Ted asks for it.
And for another thing, he is the Kennedy of Chappaquiddick and Au Bar. Notoriety is by no means a liability in a senator with a secure home base. "An eccentric personality can enhance the clout of a senator with passionate beliefs," as Congressional Quarterly's "Politics in America 1994" puts it.
When his hair is long and his waist bulging, Ted Kennedy is the liberal mirror image of the eccentric conservative senators from the old one-party South of a generation ago -- out of the national mainstream but in control on pet issues.
One of his pet issues is health care. He (chairman, Labor and Human Resources) is presently in a turf war with Sen. Pat Moynihan (chairman, Finance) over who shall play the lead role in handling the administration bill. The administration appears to prefer Kennedy, but presidents don't have much say in these intra-Senate squabbles.
Kennedy first chaired Senate hearings on national health insurance in 1971. He keeps losing, and he keeps coming back, and he takes the long view. Which is one definition of a great senator.