Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Note on Ted Kennedy

I've always been very ambivalent about Ted Kennedy and remain so after his death. The negative is hard to shake off. The booze, the womanizing, the hard partying late into his 50's, the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, and the William Kennedy Smith rape case all created an impression of profligacy and waste that can't be forgotten. Kennedy had a lot of embarrassing moments as a politician as well. When Kennedy ran for president in 1979, he couldn't come up with a coherent question to Roger Mudd (then of CBS News) when Mudd asked Kennedy why he was running for president. Kennedy's last two speeches to the Democratic Convention have been painful to watch as well. If George W. Bush wasted his inheritance, the story of Ted Kennedy's life can be seen as wasting a much bigger inheritance.

But I also view Ted Kennedy as a story of personal redemption. After the William Kennedy Smith case in 1991, Kennedy seemed to realize that he was blowing all his opportunities and really became the outstanding senator everybody's now saying he was. That says something very positive about Kennedy's character as a human being and his devotion to the causes of poverty, health reform, education, and immigration reform. Swimming against the conservative tide of the 1990's and early 2000's was tough but Kennedy proved to be more than up to the task. My own opinion is that Ted Kennedy could only come into his own as a political figure after the politics of the 1960's had played out and the era of the Kennedy family's Camelot was completely dead.

The early 1960's was a high tide of political liberalism in the United States and first John and then Bobby Kennedy rode that wave for all it was worth. But Ted Kennedy couldn't show his virtues to their fullest extent until the conservatives took over and started to roll back the Great Society, the Warren Court, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the safety net, abortion rights, and the rights of criminal suspects. Ted Kennedy was at his best in fighting a rearguard action on behalf of the liberal accomplishments of the post-WWII era and pushing a liberal agenda forward despite the prevailing winds of conservativism.

But events move quickly and Ted Kennedy had already become a man of the past even before he was diagnosed with brain cancer. The time for rearguard actions on behalf of liberalism is over and progressive America is looking at an opportunity to advance "the general welfare" rather than just protecting the country against the right. As full of faults as they are, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton are the men and women of this moment. We need to ensure that they get it right.

1 comment:

Todd Mayo said...

I am compelled to disagree here Ric. It is not simply hero worship on my part though that is in play. From my perspective, Senator Edward M. Kennedy was without question the greatest statesmen in our nation's history. None in the U.S. Senate will ever be his equal, none in the U.S. Senate will ever do more for our beloved nation than this great good man. He was the conscience of the Senate, the voice of the left out and left behind. The champion of human rights, even that most basic of human rights, health care.
Healthcare for every American was the defining cause of Teddy's Senate career. He didn't have to care about people who were unlike him but The Senator did care. His fierce loyalty to the causes of workaday Americans was summed up movingly at his funeral mass by his grandson, Teddy Kennedy III, recalling his grandfather's closing comments from his speech at... the 2008 Democratic National Convention, says: "For my grandfather's brave brave promise last summer, that the work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on."
On civil rights, Teddy's record was second only to that of LBJ. As Rep John Lewis of Georgia said of Teddy, "No one stood taller than Senator Kennedy."
Many tears were shed when we lost Teddy. Mine among them. How very sad that from this time forward there will be generations ad-infinitum who never knew the privlidge of living during the time that Edward M. Kennedy lived and served all of us. How sad that... for them, he will be history. For many of us, he was and is so much more.
He truly was our greatest statesmen.
What is perhaps saddest is that The Senator won't be here when we finally take a major step forward in health care. How sad that he cannot be there to see it signed into law.
He fought for working families till the end and I love him for it.
Teddy was courageous. He was committed and focused. We could use 99 [now 100] more just like him.
Didn't mean to write a book here. I get a little more verbiose than I once was.
At any rate, Teddy was a great/good Senator, albeit mortally toward the end. The Senate has lost of the strongest advocates for a "Better America" it has ever had." But that's just me I suppose. I revere, others sneer.