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« Class Dismissed (Dean) | Main | Drive In Libraries (for Dean) »

August 26, 2009


Thanks Joe, for taking the time to write this. Indeed, a true and reliably liberal voice in a position of leadership has been silenced. Who will now herd the cats in the Democratic Party?

Ever since I signed up as a contributor to Obama's presidential campaign, I get periodic e-mails from Obama operatives on matters where public support is to be generated. Today's e-mail is about Sen Ted Kennedy's death and legacy.

Ruchira --

Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy.

For nearly five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.

His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives -- in seniors who know new dignity; in families that know new opportunity; in children who know education's promise; and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just, including me.

In the United States Senate, I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle. His seriousness of purpose was perpetually matched by humility, warmth and good cheer. He battled passionately on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintained warm friendships across party lines. And that's one reason he became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy.

I personally valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've benefited as President from his encouragement and wisdom.

His fight gave us the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us: the blessing of time to say thank you and goodbye. The outpouring of love, gratitude and fond memories to which we've all borne witness is a testament to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives.

For America, he was a defender of a dream. For his family, he was a guardian. Our hearts and prayers go out to them today -- to his wonderful wife, Vicki, his children Ted Jr., Patrick and Kara, his grandchildren and his extended family.

Today, our country mourns. We say goodbye to a friend and a true leader who challenged us all to live out our noblest values. And we give thanks for his memory, which inspires us still.


President Barack Obama

Another tribute by Robert Sheer in the Nation.

What's all the business about his being a "flawed" man? Who isn't flawed? Or is an acknowledgment of flaws meant to appease folks who believe he skirted justice? Fallows' tribute suggests the latter:

A flawed man, who started unimpressively in life--the college problems, the silver-spoon boy senator, everything involved with Chappaquiddick--but redeemed himself, in the eyes of all but the committed haters, with his bravery and perseverance and commitment to the long haul.

The NYT is more direct, if also more impersonal and journalistic:

For much of his adult life, he veered from victory to catastrophe, winning every Senate election he entered but failing in his only bid for the presidency; living through the sudden deaths of his brothers and three of his nephews; being responsible for the drowning death on Chappaquiddick Island of a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide to his brother Robert.

(How might that sentence have continued a la Wikipedia? "...a former aide to his brother Robert, the middle of the three brothers who for nine months after their older brother John's November 1963 assassination served as U.S. Attorney General under U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th President of the United States.")

Respect for the dead is a virtue, and I have no quarrel with Kennedy. I know very little about him, which means that what I do know about him has been mediated through popular, skewed, often surreal sources like these accounts. What are these authors accomplishing with their mealy-mouthed "everything involved with..." language? It exhibits a juvenile level of "Who farted?" embarrassment.

Joe, thank you for resisting the dumb Lerner and Loewe allegory. Cicero, orator, okay.

Once again, a poet dispenses with fluff.

Yesterday evening I attended an event (Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund's 30th anniversary dinner) that was, by a truly uncanny coincidence, a long-planned tribute to Ted Kennedy at which his son, Patrick, was scheduled to speak, along with several others who knew him (a replacement for Patrick was found).

I have tremendous admiration for the procedural savvy, determination, energy, effectiveness, and idealism that Kennedy showed during his tenure in the Senate. I am saddened at his loss from the political scene (though we've had a while to ponder that) and particularly concerned about what it will mean for health care reform, which was not only an animating, life long cause for Kennedy, but one that is likely to require exactly his combination of talents for passage.

Last night, there was understandably no talk of Kennedy as a "flawed" man. From a disability perspective, the younger generations of Kennedys (that is, after the generation of Joe Sr., a far worse than "flawed" man) have a phenomenal track record in the area of disability rights, from various Medicaid and Medicare legislation to the ADA to the Mental Health Parity Act. No Child Left Behind, some of Ted's deregulation efforts, the Bork confirmation hearings (a battle won that cost a war, IMHO) make his legacy in other areas somewhat more complicated, though "flawed" is not the right word.

But, I think referring to Kennedy's genuine personal mistakes or flaws is not necessarily an effort "to appease" so much as an effort to accurately capture his place in current events, and to create a compelling narrative of his life.

It's not just that Chappaquiddick, the ineffective presidential bid, the William Kennedy Smith trial, and various less chronicled antics and failures, happened: they were prominent current events in their time that, at least as postulated by a number of the obit authors, affected the arc of Kennedy's life and career. America loves a redemption story, and as a number of authors have noted, Kennedy's life offers a doozy. His youth is difficult to extricate from the Hollywood glamour (and badly reckless behavior) of "Camelot," but his career in the Senate is not, and creating an Augustinian connection between the two to arrive at a "flawed" but redeemed whole is compelling to the American public.

And maybe it should be compelling. Kennedy was particularly effective at mastering boring procedure and behind the scenes deals, which sometimes required (as noted by one of the NYTimes editorials) that his name not appear on the finished bill. Not only would I have trouble wholly accepting a Bill Clinton obit (no curse on him intended) that omitted Monica Lewinsky, but I would have worlds more respect for Bill Clinton if he'd spend the remainder of his career toiling away in legislative committee meetings without credit-seeking or further drama.

On a totally separate topic that I'll not flesh out since I have to get back to work: many of those now lionizing Kennedy often profess a deep dislike of "politics as usual." That dead horse for beating helped Obama's candidacy, but I always thought that professed high ground useful as a campaign slogan...but only as long as the candidate didn't really believe it. Kennedy never lost his idealism, but his M.O. as a senator-- a talent for political theatre, deal-making and compromise, and rigorous knowledge and exploitation of arcane rules and compromise-- were all about politics as usual. That's exactly why I miss Kennedy in Obama's efforts at health care reform. There's a lot of talk and talk-back now about his death acting as impetus and inspiration-- my wish is less that the Democrats will be motivated than that Obama will somehow learn to channel Kennedy (or Johnson) and get down in the trenches to get the deal done.

Anna's last paragraph is spot on.What else do we elect our public officials to do in office if not to politick on our behalf using all available rules, regulations and the loop-holes inherent therein? Which is why I am sometimes exasperated by Obama & Co.'s insistence on making nice with their enemies (while screwing over some of their friends) for the appearance of co-operation.

It is a bit laughable that Ted Kennedy's "bipartisan spirit" is being made so much of by the opposition and even some in his own party. True, he managed to get the opposition to sign on to several legislations of his liking. But I am sure that it was achieved by employing a fair amount of arm twisting behind the scenes. Kennedy remained a true partisan to the end even though his public stance was not always as categorically ideological as his tactics during the Robert Bork confirmation hearing. His "NO" vote on Bush-Cheney's Iraq war was only one recent example of going against prevailing political winds and sticking to his principles.

John and Robert will live on in our imagination as the glamorous, tragic Kennedy brothers whose lives were cut short before their promise could be fulfilled. Ted, with his gift of a longer life has left a far more enduring mark on the average life of the average American.

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