Sunday, August 30, 2009

One of the Last Old Timers, Ted Kennedy

In many conversations with my pal working in Congress now, we constantly bring up how so many of today's Congress members are not as beholden to local interests as they are the national party goals. I bring up names like George Mitchell and Bill Cohen as perfect examples. Yes, they represented their parties interests, but they were Mainers first. That time seems a bit old, and I wish it would come back. They were not creatures of a separate political class, but citizens fo theri states and districts representing their interests.

Ted Kennedy's passing is another reminder of the change in Washington DC. He was a link to that past full of deals made by men like LBJ, Tip O'Neill, and as prez, Reagan. He's also one of those people that as time passed and few of his peers remained, his reputation was helped just by staying alive. This happened in baseball with Ted Williams, who was a first class asshole, but since he outlived so many of his peers, suddenly was remembered more fondly than his attitude justified. Yes, he was wicked liberal. He was also someone willing to give an inch to get an inch.

As a native New Englander, I cannot discuss his wonderful service as a champion for the poor and disabled, as well as unions, special interest groups, academia, and rich people, without mentioning the bad. Kennedy was a cheater at Harvard who got to the Senate because of his family wealth & name. He was a boozer & skirt chaser even in old age to the point where "In Living Color" and "Saturday Night Live" made fun of him in the early 90s. He was a joke as well as an institution. A Denis Leary joke went "Ted Kennedy: good senator, bad date". This was not just a reference to his drinking and harassing but to his "Chappaquiddick" problem. When you drive, probably drunk, into water with a young woman not your wife, then you escape, leaving her in the car to die, and don't go to the cops right off the bat, you are a first class douchebag. If it happened today, he'd resign and maybe face jailtime. Fortunately for Kennedy, the first moon landing was later that week. He also had his money, fame and a far less intrusive press to manage. My parents like to laugh about his press conference with a neck brace when he turned his head to answer a question, showing the brace to be a fraud. Imagine if he had escaped with Mary Jo Kopechne. He'd have been president in 1976.

Instead, he was a very human senator. He lived in the shadow of 3 brothers who died while in service of their country (soldier, president, senator). He wraps up the Kennedy name. No one left in that family has any charisma or fire. It's a family with so much promise unfulfilled. What if JFK is not killed in 63? What if Bobby survives his attack & becomes president in 68? What if Ted saves the girl? What if JFK Jr. doesn't fly at night when he wasn't instrument rated? America will never have a royal family, but the Kennedy family is as close as we will get (if the Bush group has another Prez, then we can reconsider). Like any dynasty, they have their highs and their lows. After nearly a century in the public eye, their impact, their good deeds, and their place in America history can truly be evaluated and appreciated.

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