Having fun on the hustings

Just when the fun seemed to have gone out of American politics, Senator Kennedy rose from his decline in the polls to have a little of the welcome old banter with Vice-President Mondale, who was standing in for front-runner Jimmy Carter at a Democratic gathering in Waterloo, Iowa. Had there been any good laughs in the campaign since the President himself had so skillfully raised them at the dedication of the Kennedy Library in Boston?

Anyway, here was the Kennedy whose patriotism Mr. Mondale had seemed to question to the point where the Vice-President had to deny he was questioning it. And the Senator was presenting Mr. Mondale with a jersey from the New England Patriots football team from "one good patriot to another."

Then Mr. Kennedy began musing about Mr. Mondale as the "surrogate" for the busy President. "Who might be able to represent me?" wondered Mr. Kennedy. He thought of a man who supported him in the Senate on national health insurance, spoken out against decontrol of oil and gas prices, rejected embargoes of grain to the Soviet Union. Who? And, of course, the audience was way ahead of his deft kidding of former Senator Mondale as the man whose former positions he was describing.

On the Republican side, Senator Dole and Mr. Connally had managed to have some fun at other candidates' expense during their Des Moines debate. But the cream of the Kennedy jesting lay in simultaneously one-upping an old friend and smoothing over the situation between them.It's the kind of thing Americans would miss if the serious business of politics gets seriouser and seriouser in a troubled world instead of displaying the resilience to keep matters in perspective.

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