R.I.P., Teddy Kennedy, last of the great liberals



Whatever else you see or read today or in the next few days about the late Edward Kennedy, let me assure you of this:

The man did not get cheated by life. He lived four or five lifetimes in his 77 years: a young kid just hoping to carry the mantle of his slain brothers; a senator who many thought was a lightweight but grew into a powerful advocate, an incredibly wealthy man who cared deeply about people who had so little money.

He was also shamed and disgraced after being responsible for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick in 1969, pathetically leaving the scene of the crime, then not reporting it for hours while Kopechne drowned; and finally, after the drinking and carousing and womanizing was finished, he became a fantastic and distinguished voice of experience in the Senate, raging against big-company greed and fighting so hard for things like aid to the poor, civil rights, and immigration.

Really, the guy lived enough for three or four movies about him.

One of the things I said in a post last month about Kennedy is that he was such a tragically flawed hero, and was such a lightning rod, that most people either loved him or hated him.  I mean really, have you ever met anyone with no opinion on Teddy?

Just as so many of us on the left were thrilled he was championing causes few believed him, he was mocked viciously on the right, for his excessive alcohol intake (a woman in my office has a bumper sticker that reads: “I’d still rather go hunting with Dick Cheney than drinking with Ted Kennedy.”)

Much like with Bill Clinton, I think that if Teddy could’ve eliminated some of the more noxious elements of his personal life, he could’ve accomplished so much more.

As much as he did accomplish (helping pass the Voting Rights Act, helping found OHSA, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, getting the minimum wage raised, starting the wildly successful SCHIP program for kids’ health), I feel that he could’ve had an even bigger impact, perhaps as President, if his wildly reckless behavior had been curtailed before the 1990s.

There are some people that I’ve read today who think Kennedy’s death from a brain tumor will spur change and action on the health-care debate, that now there will be some kind of symbolic unity and America will finally get a strong universal health-care plan.

Yeah, I’m not seeing that; Republicans and special interests are too dug in and this goes way beyond Teddy Kennedy’s legacy. 

What I keep thinking about today is, who’s going to fill his shoes? I don’t mean, literally, who’ll take his Senate seat.

I’m talking about, who’ll be the charismatic liberal voice in the Senate? We lost the great Paul Wellstone in a plane crash in 2002, and now Kennedy has died.

There are other liberal Senators fighting for our causes, men like Russ Feingold and Dick Durbin, but they lack the national profile and, quite frankly, the charisma of other past standout Senators.

I just fear that with Barack Obama turning out to be more of a centrist than I hoped, that with Kennedy’s death the era of the mad as hell, fire-breathing liberal championing those who don’t have anyone else to champion them is officially dead, too.

Who will speak for those without a voice? Who will argue on behalf of the single mother working two jobs and still being unable to pay the mortgage, or the minimum-wage-earning man trying to earn a living and break a cycle of abject poverty in his life, or in his surroundings? Hardly anybody speaks for those people now above a whisper, and now poor people lost one of the few megaphones they had left.

I thought John Edwards could be that voice once, but, well, we know what happened to him.

I think historians decades from now will see Kennedy in a mostly positive light; the alcohol and indiscretions will be glossed over, and his legacy will be that of the only Kennedy brother who lived a long life, and packed as much into it as it could.

Adam Clymer maybe summed up Kennedy best in his 1999 biography:

“The deaths and tragedies around him would have led others to withdraw. He never quits, but sails against the wind.”

Farewell, Senator Kennedy. You lived one hell of a life.

And say hi to Jack and Bobby for us, too.




3 responses to “R.I.P., Teddy Kennedy, last of the great liberals

  1. He was the last of the progressives – when wealthy people made a decision to give back. It took him awhile to decide to be a really fine statesman, but once he did – that is what he became. I wasn’t wild about boozing, womanizing, irresponsible man he once was. But he earned my respect back slowly in later years.

  2. without the kennedy name and money : would have spent a few years in jail for manslaughter : alocohlic waste :

  3. It’s been a few days since TK’s passing, so it’s time to throw a couple things out there about this love affair with Teddy Kennedy.

    Couple questions:
    Let me know who I’m talking about–Teddy Kennedy or George W. Bush.

    Who was an alcoholic?:
    TK or GW
    ANSWER: Both.

    Rich daddies in powerful political positions:
    TK or GW
    ANSWER: Both took advantage of family ties to achieve political gain.

    Considered second-tier, politically, within their own family:
    TK or GW
    ANSWER: Both. JFK and RFK were considered the cream of the political crop in the Kennedy family, as was Jeb Bush.

    Took the easy way out, militarily?:
    TK or GW
    ANSWER: Both. TK accidentally signed up for four years during the Korean War, and had his father get it reduced to two years and in Paris, away from the danger. Never promoted above private. GW was in the Texas air national guard during Vietnam.

    Floundered around in an Ivy League school?:
    TK or GW
    ANSWER: Both. In fact, TK was actually expelled for cheating while at Harvard. GW, of course, attended Yale.

    Busted for DUI or reckless driving (not even including Chappaquiddick)?
    TK or GW
    ANSWER: Both. Bush in Maine and TK four times alone during law school in Virginia.

    Responsible for the drowning of a young girl on a quiet night at Chappaquiddick?:
    TK or GW
    ANSWER: Just TK there. No need to tell the lengthy story here, everybody knows the details.

    My point here is not to rip on TK–these are just the facts. All men are flawed. My problem is with how easily the left forgives those flaws (especially women’s rights groups completely ignoring Clinton’s numerous infidelities, Ted K being forgiven for Mary Jo Kopechne, LBJ’s carousing….etc.).

    These people are forgiven because they stand on your side of the fence–at least publicly. They are excused because those issues are “in the past” or “that’s their private life, we only care about what they’re doing for their country in office”.

    On the other side of the fence are people who have done the same things (or many times, much less) and they are demonized. Sarah Palin’s personal life, though HARDLY as flawed as what is described above, is completely picked apart. What’s the worst thing she’s done? Her daughter had sex (what, and your perfect daughter never did)? She comes from a state that doesn’t have a metropolis within its state lines? She’s TOO pretty? She won a beauty contest 20 years ago INSTEAD of driving somebody off a bridge? Huh?

    This is the flaw with your side’s line of thinking. People like Ted K. are not just shown respect at their funeral, they are showered with praise and near idol worship. Yet he’s really not all that different than the president you all bashed for eight years.

    This is why I question the way your side thinks. Too much hatred/hero worship and not enough absorption of the facts. Your side of the aisle points fingers at the right and claims its most vocal supporters are uneducated and are easily swayed.

    My problem with your side of the aisle is that your EDUCATED VOTERS (and I swear you have the same percentage of educated voters as the right, contrary to the way you all paint it) are so easily swayed by emotion, and not by reason.

    Look at the facts listed above … can you really differentiate Kennedy and Bush? They are the SAME man. Period. Yet one man is canonized and one man is demonized.


    I’m more than willing to admit the faults of the leaders on my side of the spectrum, but then again, we’ve never made them out to be prophets in the first place. They’re just people, flawed people.

    Would you be willing to pick apart your candidates in the same fashion?

    There’s plenty of cyber space below my message. Let’s hear it!

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