John McCaslin

"Certainly Kennedy has had his drunken, stupid moments, just as George Bailey did," Mr. Bzdek continues. "And he will forever be responsible for the loss of Mary Jo Kopechne's life. But in spite of everything, Kennedy kept showing up. As a result, he has tacked a new message of inspiration onto the Kennedy legacy: A person can transcend his own limitations and live down his mistakes with an unceasing spirit of optimism and determination."

Like in the end of "It's a Wonderful Life," when supporters of the down-and-out George rush in on Christmas Eve with an outpouring of support for the town's best friend, "Washington saw the same kind of outpouring in Kennedy's house -- the Senate -- when his brain tumor was announced in the spring of 2008.

The author recalls Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, hunched over in his wheelchair, openly weeping on the Senate floor; hundreds of phone calls, 2,500 e-mails, and 19 bouquets arrived to the senator's office. King Abdullah II of Jordan sent an orchid, while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, actors Glenn Close and Martin Sheen, rock musician Don Henley, former Vice President Al Gore and former first lady Nancy Reagan sent personal get-well notes.

"In the chamber of the Senate," he writes, 'Work simply stopped. 'All of the oxygen went out of the room,' said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat."

As Mr. Bzdek concludes: "Greatness doesn't always come wrapped in a pretty package."

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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