Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a son of one of the most storied families in American politics, a man who knew triumph and tragedy in near-equal measure and who will be remembered as one of the most effective lawmakers in the history of the Senate, died late Tuesday night. He was 77.
The death of Mr. Kennedy, who had been battling brain cancer, was announced Wednesday morning in a statement by the Kennedy family, which was already mourning the death of the Senator’s sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver two weeks earlier.
“Edward M. Kennedy – the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply – died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port,” the statement said. “We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever.”
Mr. Kennedy had been in precarious health since he suffered a seizure in May 2008. His doctors determined the cause had been a malignant glioma, a brain tumor that often carries a grim prognosis.
As he underwent cancer treatment, Mr. Kennedy was little seen in Washington, appearing most recently at the White House in April as Mr. Obama signed a national service bill that bears the Kennedy name. Last week Mr. Kennedy urged Massachusetts lawmakers to change state law and let Gov. Deval Patrick appoint a temporary replacement upon his death, to assure that the state’s representation in Congress would not be interrupted by a special election.
While Mr. Kennedy had been physically absent from the capital in recent months, his presence had been deeply felt as Congress weighed the most sweeping revisions to America’s health care system in decades, an effort Mr. Kennedy called “the cause of my life.”
Health care "reform" that's going to require buying junk insurance that covers less than your policy, if you have one, does now aside, for those of us born in the 1950's, the death of Senator Kennedy is truly a knock on the ghoulish door that tells us we're next.
I'm sure that we're going to see the Usual Suspects popping up in the comments talking about Chappaquiddick, the incident that ruined Ted Kennedy's presidential aspirations forever. Funny, isn't it, how the narrative of sin and redemption comes into play when Republican politicians fall from grace, but where Ted Kennedy is concerned, thirty years of redemption isn't enough for them.
As the last of the Kennedy brothers leaves us, it's useful to note how different the Kennedys were from the Bushes. Old Joe Kennedy was as nasty a piece of work as any robber baron, but somewhere along the lines his sons got the idea that a career in public political life was about public service, not about getting the keys to the kingdom so that you can plunder the treasury to make your friends richer. I think that John Kennedy is sainted far beyond what is appropriate by virtue of being cut down before he had a chance to really screw up, and Bobby Kennedy too has joined the ranks of the mythologized, his assassination being the first real inkling that baby boomers had that the dice were loaded.
But Ted Kennedy, who seemed to me to be the Lesser Brother, the Designated Family Shithead of the Kennedy clan, the also-ran, carried the family baggage -- the drinking and the womanizing -- with far less aplomb than his brothers. And yet after their deaths, and especially the horrific wake-up call that took place in Chappaquiddick, Ted Kennedy became arguably the greatest of the Kennedy brothers.
Kennedy was an unabashed liberal from a wealthy family; something you rarely see today in this age of "I've got mine and fuck you" coming from all income levels. His causes were those that make the lives of ordinary Americans better: Civil rights. Health care. Labor and work. Education. Today, politicians from wealthy families (see also: George W. Bush, Mitt Romney) represent the interests of their cronies and friends. Ted Kennedy, older than Bush and Romney, recognized that Americans born without his advantages should have a piece of the pie too. You never heard of corporations buying Teddy Kennedy's vote. Perhaps they knew they couldn't.
Much has been made of the long friendship between Kennedy and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. This is a friendship that could never happen in the Senate today without the Democratic Senator being a Blue Dog or a Joe Lieberman, willing to expose his belly to the Republican bully in the duo. With Kennedy's death, Orrin Hatch is now free to join the frothing, sweating, screeching wingnuts of his party in assuming that those on the other side of the aisle are not intelligent people of goodwill who disagree, but are unworthy of even being called Americans. That's why Kennedy's death is yet another nail in the coffin of the nation in which I grew up. The Senate used to be a place in which those in opposition would actually sit together and compromise, not the capitulation by Democrats that constitutes "bipartisanship" these days. Perhaps neither party was completely ecstatic with what resulted, but by and large Americans were reasonably content with their lot. Then in 1980, it all changed, and we got the Reagan legacy of pummelling the opposition into the ground and then defecating on it while it's spitting dirt out of its mouth and wiping its bloody nose. This is what politics have become in the post-Kennedy era which began long before the Lion of the Senate's death.
We've all known that this day was coming ever since we heard the words "malignant glioma" last year. Those of us born in the 1950's read Death Be Not Proud
as kids and knew what "glioma" meant. But even so, and especially after Kennedy's rousing speech (which turned out to be his farewell to his party) at last year's Democratic convention, we still sort of thought he'd go on forever, because, well, in some ways he WAS the Senate.
The next generation of Kennedys has dabbled in politics a bit, but with the exception of Ted's son Patrick, none are currently on the national political stage, thereby proving that at least for the Kennedy family (Caroline Kennedy's ill-fated toe-dip into the waters of Hillary Clinton's Senate seat notwithstanding), the sense of dynastic entitlement runs nowhere near as strong as it does in the Bush family, where Poppy is looking at Jeb's son George P. and salivating over what he thinks are guaranteed Latino votes for one of his son's "little brown ones"
. The younger (now middle-aged themselves) Kennedys are still involved in public service, albeit in a quieter way.
Edward M. Kennedy lived a good and full life, even with all its flaws and and the tragic, fatal mistake of Chappaquiddick. It's about all any of us can ask. But when we look at the state of politics today as compared to his family's heyday, as we look at Barack Obama, his community organizing years long behind him as he hobnobs on the golf course with the president of a bank being investigated for running illegal tax shelters
, the death of Senator Kennedy just whacks us over the head with the knowledge that the days of statesmanship are over for good.
More from Bustednuckles
, who pre-emptively kneecaps the "What about Chappaquiddick?" crowd
far more effectively than I do.
Labels: obituaries, Ted Kennedy