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The Dining Room Test
Scripps Howard News Service


April 27, 2005

For 20 years I have kept my silence. I will do so no longer. In the debate over John Bolton's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, it finally has been made clear to me that a human being who yells at another human being does not deserve to hold high office. It's what Sen. George Voinovich calls "the Kitchen Test."

And so, it's time I finally told the painful truth: Ted Kennedy yelled at me. He hurt my feelings. Therefore, those who believe John Bolton does not deserve to be confirmed must surely also agree that Sen. Kennedy must step down. Here is the never-before-told story:

It happened in Ethiopia during the height of the Great Famine of the 1980s. Kennedy had come on a fact-finding mission. As Africa correspondent of The New York Times, I was assigned to travel with him.

One night, after we had flown into a small city northeast of Addis Abba, we repaired to a ramshackle hotel. One of the senator's staffers told me there would be no further events that evening. So I turned to Martha Radditz (now of ABC News but in those days a Boston anchor woman) and said something like: "Great! What say we go check out this burg?" Martha agreed.

We had a pleasant excursion but found no restaurant to our liking so we returned to the hotel early. We were shocked at what we saw: Kennedy was holding forth at a dinner with local luminaries. As quietly as we could, we tiptoed into the dining room to take our seats - but the senator spotted us. He was furious. He interrupted the proceedings.

"What do you think you're doing?" he shouted for all to hear. "You're either with this group or you're not with this group. You don't come waltzing in anytime you choose!" I can't recall whether his hands were on his hips; probably not since he was sitting down. I do know that he scolded us for what seemed a long time.

In any case, Martha and I retreated, meekly, to her room, feeling like children sent to bed without supper. Not long after, one of Kennedy's staffers knocked on the door.

"It's been explained to the senator that there was a mistake," he said. "He now knows you were told there was no event tonight and you had left the hotel before plans changed. The reception is continuing and the senator would like you to re-join it."

We demurred. Our self-esteem was too badly battered. He insisted. "The senator would really like you to return," he said. "I would like you to return." And something in the way he said it made us believe that if we did not respond to this entreaty, he, too, might feel the Kennedy wrath.

Downstairs, Martha and I approached the senator to offer our apologies. "Oh, forget about it!" he said amicably. "Let's just forget the whole thing." He seemed in a much improved mood.

"Forget it, senator?" I responded. "Senator, I will never forget it. I will forever remember the night that Edward Kennedy laid me to bat guano [I actually used a more common term] in Ethiopia."

"Oh, don't say that!" he exclaimed. "It was no big deal."

And all these years, I have tried to convince myself that it was no big deal. People get angry. People yell. People get over it. Life goes on.

But now I know better. Now I know what happened was a terrible trauma. And what the senator did was unpardonable. People who hurt people are the most hurtful people in the world - and they should not serve in positions of trust and authority. They should not serve as ambassadors, senators or maitre d's.

It was what Voinovich might call: "The Dining Room Test."


Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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