Friday, August 28, 2009



The death of Senator Ted Kennedy this week inspired plenty of news coverage that those of us who have a profound interest in history, especially post-War U.S. history, found compelling. Much of the coverage consisted of hagiography from the left and the “mainstream” media and “all Chappaquiddick all the time” vituperation from the right and its media outlets. Given the historical value, and the continuing salience, of any discussion of Ted’s, and his family’s, role in history and the utter lack of balance from either side in its coverage of the topic, I felt compelled to share some of my thoughts concerning the man who has legitimately and justifiably been endowed with the moniker “The Liberal Lion of the Senate.”

Let me start by saying that I was, and am, to put it mildly, not the biggest fan of Ted Kennedy and never cared much for his brothers or for his entire family. But, as the years have gone by and my perspectives, both political and personal, have come to evolve, I grew to like Ted Kennedy for a number of reasons. So here are the thoughts, both positive and negative, but mostly positive (The man just died; this is no time to emphasize the negative!), of a guy who was neither Kennedy’s biggest detractor (although, at one time, I was right up there) nor his biggest fan, but who believes that attitudes can evolve and that mercy, and slack, are two of the qualities of our Savior that we should, but usually don’t, emulate.

First, not only did Kennedy have entertainment value when he got really worked up over one of his causes (Some call this demagoguery. I would probably agree. But demagoguery is not only entertaining and a sign of passion, but also is relatively harmless in an informed society. To the extent that demagoguery is dangerous, the dullness of the society is as much to blame as the sharpness of the demagogue.), but, and this is closely related, you knew exactly where Kennedy stood on any issue. He was pretty much a down the line liberal. He didn’t try to pretend he wasn’t a liberal, and he didn’t try to hide behind anodyne terms like “progressive,” when being a liberal was not only not cool but, in many cases, a ticket to political obscurity. On virtually any topic, you could guess with amazing accuracy where Kennedy would stand before you heard, and in some cases before he had formulated, his stance on the issue. In that sense, he was an honest man who had some profound and real beliefs. There are so few of us left that I feel a profound kinship with such people, even when I disagree with them on most topics, or at least the overwhelming majority of public policy topics. On one of the few issues on which I nearly completely agreed with Senator, George Bush’s adventurism in Iraq, he was one of the few guys with the courage to take a direct stance against the war when many of his liberal colleagues, who doubtless shared his views in private, cowered and hid beyond innocuous resolutions that provided little but political cover for themselves. Of course, the security of Kennedy’s seat made such courage far easier in his case, but it would have been nice to see at least a few people besides Mr. Kennedy and Ron Paul take a firm stance against this largest foreign policy mistake since, or maybe even including, Vietnam.

Second, while Kennedy was a prodigious Democratic fundraiser, no one in history was better for Republican fundraising than Ted Kennedy. While others, including Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and President Obama, have risen to near Kennedyesque heights in this regard, no one can replace Kennedy, with his unabashed liberal outlook, his, er, personal failings (entirely, by the way, in his past), and his usually bulbous appearance, as a focal point for Republican ire and thus for GOP fundraising.

Third, I get the impression that Kennedy was genuinely a nice guy. If we are to believe the reports of his letters to the families of those residents of Massachusetts (Massachusians? Massachusettians? How about Bay Staters? Does anyone out there know what one calls a resident of Massachusetts, other than overtaxed?) who died in the 9/11 attacks, his personal calls to many of the affected families, and his attendance at countless funerals of fallen American servicemen, this was a man who was genuinely concerned with people and who, for obvious reasons, could empathize with those who suffered immense personal tragedy. One could argue that Senator Kennedy’s more selfless actions were really political stunts, but what political motivation did the man who occupied perhaps the most secure seat in the United States have for these very thoughtful, and very Christian, deeds? And, even if you are a dyed in the wool conservative, who would you rather have dinner or a beer with, Ted Kennedy or Chuck Grassley? C’mon!

Fourth, some will castigate Ted Kennedy for his “fierce partisanship.” I, for one, like partisanship, usually the fiercer, the better. The only people who are big fans of bipartisanship are members of the party that is out of power. Partisanship springs from deeply felt ideas. Those who, like yours truly, are dismayed by the cynicism and hypocrisy of what has come to be the governing class in this country have no business decrying partisanship. Indeed, one of the things that bothered me about Ted Kennedy was one of the qualities for which he is being most cloyingly praised in the wake of his death, i.e., his ability to “reach across the aisle.” I don’t want these guys “reaching across the aisle;” when they do so, they are sure to be cooking up a scheme to use our own money to dip their considerable probosces further into our affairs. I want these guys figuratively at each others’ throats because political combat and strife in Washington is the surest safeguard against intrusive government, other than an informed electorate, which left the building, never to return, a long time ago.

That having been said, while I like to see our public servants at each others’ throats on political issues, it would be better for everyone if such strident policy differences did not have to become bitter personal hostility. I yearn for the days when Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill could fight like hell over policy and then share amiable drinks at the end of the day. On that front, too, Kennedy seemed to have an admirable record. He had plenty of personal friends, and few personal enemies, on the Hill. Sadly, though, as the political has come to be personal, a sign that even those “conservatives” who routinely decry “big government” have come to see politics and political views as the be all and end all of one’s existence, I am sure that the number of those personal enemies of Mr. Kennedy has grown.

Perhaps it is hypocritical for the guy who invented monikers like “Preppy Timmy Geithner” and “Obsequious Ben Bernanke” to speak of not letting political differences become personal differences, but I, like Reagan, who used his share of barbed and well aimed zingers, genuinely enjoy the company of those with whom I disagree on political, and perhaps even more significant, issues. Those who know me know this is true. After all, it IS only politics. Ronald Reagan knew that…and so did Ted Kennedy.

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