Of all people is demagoging the religious...


October 03, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

SEN. TED KENNEDY of all people is demagoging the religious issue against his opponent in the Senate race in Massachusetts.

Sadly ironic, considering that his name is associated with taking on and de-fusing the religious issue in American politics.

That was in 1960 when his brother John ran for president. No Catholic had ever been elected president. JFK challenged the prejudiced to consider him as a "the Democratic Party's candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic."

Now Ted Kennedy, who won his brother's Senate seat in 1962 and has been there ever since, is being challenged by Mitt Romney, a Massachusetts businessman and the Republican candidate for the Senate who happens also to be a Mormon.

Rep. Joe Kennedy, Ted's nephew, attacked Romney's church for excluding women and blacks from leadership positions. Romney and many others called that a low blow. Then Ted himself attacked, saying that the Mormon Church had not allowed blacks to be priests until 1978, and he asked, "Where is Mr. Romney on those issues in terms of equality of race prior to 1978 and other kinds of issues in question?"

Both Joe and Ted later backed off (but Ted's campaign aides are jeeping it up), but why did they attack in the first place? Because a Boston Globe poll showed Kennedy ahead by 2 percentage points, and a Boston Herald poll showed Romney ahead by 2 points. Dead heat. In Massachusetts politics, when the going gets tough, the tough get dirty.

Romney is the son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney. Romney ran for president in 1968, losing the nomination to Richard Nixon. Massachusetts is a great place to practice ancestral politics. Kennedys have been in and out of political office since 1886. Lots of Lodges did well there (and in neighboring Connecticut). And don't forget the Adams family.

There is another famous political family represented in Massachusetts campaigning this year. State Rep. Mark Roosevelt is the Democratic nominee for governor. He's Theodore Roosevelt's great-grandson.

Speaking of religion and politics, here are a couple of old jokes. Stop me if you've heard them.

Old Joke # 1. When George Romney was running for president in 1968, Sen. Jacob Javits of New York, a Jew, was often mentioned as his running mate if he were nominated. A Jewish commentator observed that to Mormons all non-Mormons are Gentiles, "so we'll finally get a Jewish vice president -- and he's a Gentile."

Old Joke # 2. The "pope issue" was raised in 1960. Would JFK have to obey the pope? At a party affair, before he had won the nomination, Kennedy told this story:

"I sat next to Cardinal Spellman at dinner the other evening and asked him what I should say when voters question me about the doctrine of the pope's infallibility. 'I don't know, senator,' the cardinal told me. 'All I know is, he keeps calling me Spillman.' "

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