Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rest in Peace, Senator Ted Kennedy

Rest in Peace, Senator Ted Kennedy

The Lion of the Senate is gone, and our country is the poorer for his passing. Senator Ted Kennedy passed away late last night, surrounded by his family. While we all knew that, given his prognosis, this event seemed inevitable, I am immensely sad now that he is gone.

I had the great privilege of seeing Ted Kennedy on two occasions of great personal significance.

The first time I saw him was in 1994. It was November, and I was in Washington D.C. to attend my first conference on the assassinations of the sixties, sponsored by the Coalition On Political Assassinations (COPA). I had spent the last year reading a great deal about the deaths of his brothers, and had, at that moment, just returned from a visit to the graves of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy at Arlington. I was touring the Senate gallery when all of a sudden, this larger than life presence walked through. I wanted to run over to him, to give him a hug, to tell him I was there on that day because of his brothers, because I wanted to be with those who still felt the truth about who killed them mattered, and was worthy of study.

But I didn’t. Why bring up something sad to this man? He was the one who mattered most, now. He was still alive, still helping people. I checked my impulse and just watched from afar until he had passed out of sight.

The only other time I saw him was at Occidental College in Los Angeles. I took a vacation day from work, grabbed a co-worker from France who, after hearing Kennedy’s book on tape, was a fervent admirer. Kennedy was speaking at a rally for Obama. I sat through all the local politicians seizing their moment in the sun, talking to people who were there to see only one man, but who politely waited as would-be politicians borrowed phrases from Obama’s stump speeches, trying to wash themselves in his glory.

Then Ted Kennedy ascended the stage. My friend, an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter, had been silent during the other speeches. But when Ted Kennedy came on the stage, she turned into a fan at a rock concert, screaming his name and tearing up. It was both hilarious and endearing to see this change come over her. But such was Kennedy’s affect on people.

I had heard for years what a great speaker Kennedy was, how much energy he had. Finally, I was able to witness it myself at close range. He was a consummate speaker. He started with a couple of joking anecdotes, and then let his passion flow as he talked about the need for a leader like Barack Obama. He didn’t screech or bellow. He truly roared, and I remember thinking, this must be why he’s called the Lion of the Senate.

After he was done, his much younger and quite beautiful wife Vicky helped him off the stage. He nearly teared up when he mentioned her, and I remember thinking she must be a very special lady to have won the heart of this man. And it was very clear, watching the two of them, that the love was deeply returned.

I managed to snag his signature before he left the stage. He signed my placard, upside down, with blue ballpoint pen on a blue placard. You can barely see it. But that didn’t matter. I just wanted a moment of contact with the man, however brief, and was ecstatic that I got it.

I am listening, as I type, to several Republicans on Joe Scarborough’s morning show on MSNBC talk with great fondness about him. He had an ability to befriend people with whom he had vigorous and deep-rooted political disagreements, and was loved in return.

When his brothers were killed, Uncle Ted brought those kids—all thirteen of them—into his own family, which would include three children of his own and two stepchildren. He loved all of them deeply.

One of the reasons Ted Kennedy was so effective in the Senate is that he never demonized his opponents, even while never giving ground on his own political morality. He would argue the merits of a bill without ever turning it into a personal attack. And Ted Kennedy knew how to compromise. He fought to get solid legislation passed, and didn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I fear with his passing that bipartisanship in the Senate may die as well. Kennedy was one of the few still willing to reach across the aisle, to engage those with whom he vigorously disagreed in a respectful manner. Perhaps all the coverage of this aspect of Kennedy will help inform a new generation of leaders how the art of politics should be practiced.

The only solace I have is the knowledge that, unlike his two brothers, who were robbed of their lives too early and too abruptly, Ted had the rare experience of being eulogized, to a degree, while he was still alive. I am grateful he was able to find out just how much he was loved by so many, in the last year of his life.

Rest in peace, Edward Moore Kennedy. I pray we may someday see your like again.


Anonymous DHSmd said...

I must apologize, Lisa...

I quoted you without attribution over at dKos.

Thanks for the inspiration. Great tribute. I think VP Biden may have given the greatest speech of his life in his (seemingly contemporaneous) eulogy of Sen Kennedy during his press conference this AM.

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In 2000, when Dealey Plaza witness Jean Hill died of natural causes, her daughter was quoted in news stories that "With the inordinate number of people connected with witnessing the assassination who died in suspicious circumstances, she was proud that she was a survivor."

Senator Ted Kennedy had the consolation of also dying of natural causes.

I recently read "JFK and the Unspeakable." There's no need for another book about the Kennedys after that one. In a more just world, that book would be a best seller and given front page treatment in every newspaper. Of course, in a more just world, JFK would have been allowed to stay in office to be able to end the Cold War.

Mark Robinowitz


Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations - President John F. Kennedy
New York - September 20th 1963

''Finally, in a field where the United States and the Soviet Union have a special capacity--in the field of space--there is room for new cooperation, for further joint efforts in the regulation and exploration of space. I include among these possibilities a joint expedition to the moon. Space offers no problems of sovereignty; by resolution of this Assembly, the members of the United Nations have foresworn any claim to territorial rights in outer space or on celestial bodies, and declared that international law and the United Nations Charter will apply. Why, therefore, should man's first flight to the moon be a matter of national competition? Why should the United States and the Soviet Union, in preparing for such expeditions, become involved in immense duplications of research, construction, and expenditure? Surely we should explore whether the scientists and astronauts of our two countries--indeed of all the world--cannot work together in the conquest of space, sending someday in this decade to the moon not the representatives of a single nation, but the representatives of all of our countries.''

"Never before has man had such capacity to control his own environment, to end thirst and hunger, to conquer poverty and disease, to banish illiteracy and massive human misery. We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world--or to make it the last."

-- John F. Kennedy, speech to the UN calling for an end to the Cold War and converting the Moon Race into an international cooperative effort, Sept 20, 1963, two months and two days before he was removed from office.

12:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home