Wednesday, August 26th, 2009
What strikes me the most about Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who died last night after a battle with brain cancer, is how he represents something we’ve lost in American politics: a genuine passion for the issues, combined with a willingness and ability to work across party lines and actually get things done.
Maybe that’s why far-right conservatives vilified him so much; unlike so many progressives, he didn’t just talk, but had the determination and skill to have a clear impact on almost all the legislation he touched.
In an era of bitter, hyper-partisan politics, when bringing down your enemies seems more important than addressing pressing national problems, he was a reminder of an era when there were leaders who focused on the goals of governing and the needs of the nation, not on the perverse joys of doing partisan battle.
It’s ironic and sad that he died as his signature issue – health care reform – was getting sucked into the vortex of extremist attack politics. Maybe a healthy Teddy Kennedy could have made a difference in what is fast becoming the most demoralizing legislative battle in recent memory.
Yes, he was a reliable supporter of Israel, although the issue was never central to him. Social justice, civil rights and health care were his causes, and he served them nobly and effectively; Jewish groups active in those realms have suffered a shattering loss with his death.
I was never much for the Kennedy family mythology. JFK, his older brother, was handsome, dynamic and witty, but he had a thin record as senator and his short presidency was filled with contradictions.
Bobby Kennedy may have been on the cusp of greatness when he was slain in 1968, but we’ll never know what might have been.
Teddy, on the other hand, left as a legacy 47 years of effective legislating and strong leadership – real leadership, the kind that doesn’t regard compromise as a mortal sin, that doesn’t demonize political opponents, that sees passed legislation that changes peoples lives, not the approval of Rush Limbaugh, as the goal of politics.