Those of you who don’t have Massachusetts roots — you probably won’t be able to relate to the video you’re going to see coming from the Land of the Cod over the next few days. Ted Kennedy was much, much loved.
The older folk were around for the full dynasty and losing Teddy is like finding out that a friend of theirs had just lost a son. The middle-younger folk like me came to know him during the Seventies and Eighties. We were perversely proud of the fact that all of his disgraces were personal ones, and all of his triumphs were on behalf of Americans in general and the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in particular.
The Younger-Younger folk got to know him after he’d sobered up. They knew perhaps the last living example of the true Distinguished Senator, an ardent fighter advancing the working and living conditions of those with the fewest friends in national politics, one of the few to correctly call “Bull****” on the case for war against Iraq.
Every disagreement I have with the concept of Term Limits, I owe to Ted Kennedy. Kennedy was a fantastic Senator; we could have had no greater advocate. He had a true passion for public service, he seemed incorruptible, and after 20, 30, 40 years in the Senate, he knew how the entire system worked and how to get things done.
What sort of blight-sighted system would use “he has too much experience” as a reason to boot such a man out of his job?
And what a story Ted Kennedy represented. Here’s the pitch: you’re the youngest child of a man who’s frustrated by the fact that despite his wealth, despite his connections, and despite marrying well, he’d never be thought of as anything more than a Useful Irishman by those high in power.
Your father earmarks your oldest brother to get into politics. He’s killed in World War II. So he lines up your oldest surviving brother and he becomes President! And then he’s assassinated. Again, your oldest surviving brother is lined up; again, your oldest brother is shot.
And now you’re next in line.
Oh, and you’re in a near-fatal plane crash that kills two other people, including your personal aide, and spend months convalescent from severe injuries.
Okay…NOW what do you do?
It would seem as though the death of Kennedy’s presidential ambitions gave him new life. It’s a great illustration of the importance of finding your place in the world. If he’d been elected in 1980, he might have been a great President or he might have been a middlin’ one. He might have won a second term, or he might have retired to Hyannisport after four years. Either way: what a terrible loss that would have been. We all would have been denied what were probably Kennedy’s most productive and vigilant 25 years of public service.
We knew his death was near. I’m a little sadder than I figured. Mom loved the Kennedys. When there were arguments about the Kennedys — inspired by a fresh scandal and usually instigated by Dad, who was from out-of-state and thus not necessarily a fan — she would end the discussion definitively.
“When you have suffered, as the Kennedys have suffered…”
And there were no more words after the ellipses. I sort of stopped wondering what those words might have been, after hearing the phrase enough times.
I imagine that there’ll be a public memorial…some sort of opportunity for the people of Massachusetts to pay their respects. I’ll try to be there. The anniversary of Mom’s death is coming up and I’ll attend her memorial mass of course. But I think it’d have pleased her even more to know that her duly-appointed deputy was paying respects to a Senator whom she loved and admired.