Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy, 1932-2009

I admired him more than any other politician, living or dead (except Abe Lincoln and Ted's two brothers, maybe). He was really someone to admire: a liberal, a political pragmatist, a consensus builder, a highly effective legislator... and a man born to power and privilege who stood up for minorities, women, immigrants, gays and poor people. Over the years, he did more for civil rights than anyone in American history. As just one example, America would look very different today if not for his efforts to change immigration laws that favored Europeans. Many immigrants and children of immigrants from Latin America, Africa and Asia owe their presence in America to him -- a white male whose grandfather told him stories of "Help wanted -- no Irish need apply" signs around Boston in his youth ("Irish need not apply"). That grandfather, whose own grandparents were all immigrants who fled the Irish potato famine, rose to become mayor of Boston. Read or listen to Nina Totenberg's excellent piece on NPR this morning. My greatest fear is that his absence during the health care debate will irreparably damage its chances of passage, thanks also to the lying liars who lie (more on that tomorrow).

My friends and I used to mock Ted and his whole family for their boozing and womanizing (and for the women, turning a blind eye while pumping out the heirs). Ted's flaws mostly hurt himself and his own family, but of course also Mary Jo Kopechne. And yes, at times he set a terrible example for his nephews and sons (remember Au Bar?). Since then, my perspective has evolved such that I look at a person's positive accomplishments (or lack thereof) for the many as more than compensating for private-life flaws that hurt the few. Case in point: Bill Clinton. The Lewinsky affair was stupid but really hurt only Hilary and Chelsea directly; the bigger harm was that done to the political effectiveness of himself and his party. On the other hand, we have Bush, who by all accounts is a clean-living fellow who quit booze and didn't cheat on Laura as far as we know, but blithely sent thousands to their deaths in Iraq, condoned torture and committed many other misdeeds while believing he was actually doing the morally right thing. You make the call.

Being a base and tacky person, I immediately began speculating to myself about the funeral. This could be the biggest pageant of its type since Princess Di's funeral, when my English friend C. biked to our condo in the dark (the funeral was televised live at 4 a.m. EST) and we watched it on TV and cried and cheered her brother dissing the royals. Oh, and also... I was walking into the train station this morning and the regular guy was playing electric guitar, and out of nowhere I had the notion (I did NOT act upon it) to ask him if he knew any numbers by the Dead Kennedys.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails