August 27, 2009
Farewell, Ted Kennedy: Where Have The Lions
It is undeniably a different America without
Teddy Kennedy in it.
Much has already been said and will continue
to be said about the final passing of
Camelot, of the loss of the “Lion of the
Senate.” It’s all true, of course, and
Kennedy’s passing, while inevitable and
expected, is nonetheless shocking for those
whose concepts of liberalism, of compassion
and of political principle have been molded
in part by his influence.
Just as progressives have much to mourn,
conservatives have little to celebrate:
Kennedy’s demise doesn’t simply denote the
eclipse of a certain brand of unyielding
old-school liberalism, but of a certain type
of conviction politician – the sort who,
come hell or high water, can be expected to
stand squarely and unflinchingly for certain
core principles. No matter where one stands
on the political spectrum, such politicians
are few and far between, and America is
worse off for it.
Forget about Kennedy’s liberal credentials
for a second. Consider instead who, on the
left, right or center, has shown a similar
measure of steadfastness where issues of
principle were concerned? If Teddy Kennedy
could be counted on for one thing over the
course of his five decades in public office,
it is that he would always be Teddy
Kennedy. He would take a stand on every
issue, and stick to it regardless of the
vicissitudes of political influence or
public opinion. Ever the masterful
politician, he’d certainly compromise in
order to get things done – few in Washington
were as adept at negotiating cooperation
from across the aisle – but in Kennedy’s
world, compromise never equated to
capitulation or surrender.
He would settle for half of what he wanted
today, in full understanding that he’d be
back pushing for the rest of it tomorrow.
And the day after, and the day after that,
until it was done.
Stubborn, unflinching, courageous – all of
these adjectives apply, particularly the
last. Consider that this was a man who had
seen his two older brothers gunned down in
cold blood in service to the same nation he
would spend a lifetime serving. Consider too
that for the entirety of his public career,
he had served as the poster child and
whipping boy for his political opposition,
the focus for their hatred, the emblem of
all that they sought to vanquish and
At some points, he must have asked himself
whether it was all worth it. He could at any
moment have traded in his turbulent life in
the Washington fishbowl for a lavish,
comfortable, languid existence on Martha’s
Vineyard, resting in the ease afforded by
familial wealth far from the prying eyes and
ears of photojournalists and political
rivals. Nonetheless, he persevered,
unrelentingly prosecuting his case for a
more just, equitable, compassionate America.
Who has been his equal? Which of his fellow
senators could look themselves in the mirror
and say, regardless of party affiliation or
political predilection, that their own lives
and careers had been equally driven by a
commitment of service to the nation and to
others, rather than to their own enrichment
and empowerment? If they were to ask and
answer the question honestly, none could
reply in the affirmative.
Ted Kennedy gained his office, in large
measure, thanks to familial wealth, name
recognition and his family’s political heft
– as is typically the case for members of
“the world’s most exclusive club” as it has
been described. Unlike the bulk of his
fellow senators, however, he was not
beholden to any of these. It was his stands
and his deeds over the course of five
decades that earned him the love and
allegiance of the people of Massachusetts,
of progressives across America and people of
compassion and principle around the world.
The senate and the nation are poorer without
him – and could dearly use one or two brave
individuals, on the left or the right, who
would take this opportunity to serve in his
stead as the senate’s unswerving conscience.
2009 North Star Writers Group. May not
be republished without permission.
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