Remembering Ted Kennedy

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August 26, 2009 by D Stack

Senator Ted KennedyThe torch will be passed again to a generation of Americans. The work begins anew. The hope rises again, and the dream lives on.

-Senator Ted Kennedy at the 2008 Democratic Convention, echoing earlier words

With the passing one of my state’s senators and one of the major forces of the senate over the past several decades, it seems to reflect on Senator Ted Kennedy.

In my last posting I discussed the issue of senatorial succession in Massachusetts and my opinion on that has not changed.

Born in 1971, I have no first-hand recollection of Ted Kennedy’s brothers. And I’ve never been one to buy into the mystique of a family. I took no joy in John Kennedy Jr.’s death several years ago, but it did not affect me the way it seemed to affect so many here in Massachusetts.

Though for my daughters’ Massachusetts will be the place they were born in, and in all probability, grown up in, my wife and I moved here as adults, relocating here around the same time we were married, back in 1996. I’d spent most of my life in Connecticut, though originally a Brooklyn, New York boy. And despite my clearly liberal leanings today, I was far more libertarian when I moved to Massachusetts. While I never bought into the conservative moral agenda, I was generally of the opinion that a good government was a small one. And so when moving here I felt pleased I would be able to vote against Ted Kennedy.

Ironically, the first time I would have had the opportunity to do so was in the 2000 election, with the Republicans placing Jack E. Robinson as their nominee and Libertarian candidate in the form of Carla Howell. By then my politics were more middle-of-the-road and I had problems with both Howell and Robinson, resulting in me, much to my surprise, voting for Kennedy. By 2006 I was far more enthusiastic.

It was a difficult journey for me. I mentioned to my brother that Ted Kennedy was a person that I found myself forced to respect. To this day I’m unsatisfied with the explanation as to just what happened in the Chappaquiddick incident – I know had Publius the Geek been the driver, he would very likely be looking at some jail time. And in many ways he became a caricature: tales of him from the 1991 William Kennedy Smith trial wandeing around without his pants on, rumors of alcohol abuse, etc.

I think the title for Peter S. Canellos’ biography of Kennedy is appropriate: Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy. There is no denying he was a man with many personal failings. Though he is far from alone in that regard – there have been many senators, representatives, and even presidents with DUI records.

But like many, I think Ted Kennedy found his place when his presidential aspirations went up in flames. He was a liberal during the most conservative periods of this nation, during the Reagan Revolution and the first six years of the George W. Bush administration. Listening to his speeches on civil rights, education, and health care it is clear that this was a man who both recognized the privilege that he had been born to and believed that it was his mission to bring these privileges to others less fortunate than himself. I found the recording I linked to this post especially appropriate. At the 2008 Montgomery County Democratic Committee’s Annual Spring Reception, Ted Kennedy spoke passionately about his son’s cancer treatment, how he was able to easily afford it with his senatorial health care and how he spoke with parents who did not have this insurance – parents who sold their houses to be able to afford their childrens’ health care. “That kind of choice for any parent in this country is absolutely unacceptable and wrong.”

These traits of Senator Ted Kennedy illustrate why I found myself forced to respect him and found myself very saddened when I heard he had passed last night. He became a master of getting things done. He mastered procedure, established relationships, learned when to reach accross the aisle and when to stand firm. He learned how to accept incremental steps, to get something good if perfection was not available.

Yes his failings were great. As a person, I believe he did some dreadful things in his life. But I do believe that in the balance, our nation is far better for him having been in the United States Senate.

O God, Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful, grant to the souls of our departed loved ones, the remission of all their sins, that by means of our pious supplications, they may obtain the joy of heaven which they have earnestly desired.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

– Catholic Prayer for the Dead

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