I’m not quite sure why I’m as affected by Ted Kennedy’s passing as I am. Sure, as the “liberal’s liberal,” Kennedy was a bright light of hope for Americans as the nation experienced its darkest hours at the height of the civil rights movement. And sure, Kennedy championed causes—postsecondary education in particular—that have paved the way for me to be where I am now. And to a bleeding heart liberal like me, Kennedy represented a stalwart ray of progressiveness in a town often swallowed by politics and legalism.
But my sadness at his death seems much more visceral.
For some reason, the Kennedy family has always fascinated me. Marred by tragedy after tragedy, the Kennedys seemed to represent an unfulfilled promise, unrealized potential, an unfinished portrait of what America “could have been.”
That Teddy managed to outlive his brothers while never reaching the ascendancy to the Presidency that he seemed destined for probably turned out better for us.
Kennedy’s lifetime of public service in the Senate was not only admirable, but downright impressive. In an era when Capitol Hill seems to be engulfed in a sea of politicians owned by special interests, Kennedy represented true principled leadership. He fought vigorously for his beliefs and for the causes of underrepresented Americans and yet had the capacity to engender true bipartisanship, even on the most contentious issues. Whether you agreed with him or not, you have to admire the fact that he spoke up, held the line, and never wavered.
(Incidentally, that’s a trait I was surprised to find out about George W. Bush when I heard him speak to a whole bunch of Feds in the last few months of his Administration. Vilified and dismissed as he was in the media, Bush genuinely stood for doing what he believed was good and right. Party lines aside, you really can’t say that about a lot of people in DC.)
And true, Kennedy had his share of flaws. I’m utterly disgusted by the stream of vitriol on Facebook condemning his politics, causes, or whatever mistakes he may have committed in the past. Lest any of us dare throw the first stone, can we honestly claim to accomplish the same amount of good that Kennedy did—in spite of our flaws?
Kennedy gave his country a lifetime of committed public service. But he also gave us hope—hope that we can make a difference. While the punditry would have us conclude that Americans would rather sit on our collective asses and throw monkey poo at those who are doing something, there are those public servants who are quietly making sure that the least among us have a voice.
I’ve always thought about running for public office. And while I’m not quite ready to go out and collect signatures just yet, I’m inspired by Kennedy’s legacy of service. We should all be so fortunate to have the opportunity to fight for what we believe in until our dying breath.
“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”
Amen, Teddy. Amen.