Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thoughts on the passing of Edward Kennedy

This will shock some of my friends, but there was a time when I had little use for Edward Kennedy.

His flaws were many and it seemed readily apparent that initially he rode on the coattails of his older brothers. Mike Royko, the Chicago columnist (known generally as a liberal), regularly heaped abuse on Teddy, and (like some others) sneeringly suggested if his name had been Edward Slabotnik instead of Kennedy, he'd never been elected.

There's no doubt the Chappaquiddick incident guaranteed that he'd never be president. His abortive run against the floundering Jimmy Carter in 1980 was the proof of that. Perhaps the knowledge eventually lifted a burden from him, because he ultimately became the third-longest-serving senator in U.S. History.

His career had its ups and downs (some of these fueled by Kennedy's drinking habits). His marriage to his second wife is credited by many with turning his messy personal life around.

He was not the smartest of the Kennedy brothers. In college he played football and was an indifferent student at best.  Interestingly, he he received a recruiting feeler from Green Bay Packers.

Kennedy and his staff wrote over 2,500 bills, of which 300 were eventually enacted into law. He co-sponsored another 500 plus bills that became enacted. An overview of these can be seen at and

His affability may have been his greatest gift and it was in committee that he found his forte. His charm won allies from across the aisle, and he was able to put together compromise positions that broke through legislative logjams. A guiding principle was "never let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Conservative Orrin Hatch became a close friend and unlikely frequent partner.

Despite his role as the right-wing's favorite fund-raising bogeyman, senate Republicans recently ranked him No. 1 among Democrats for bipartisanship. In 2008, John McCain said of him, "When we have worked together, he has been a skillful, fair and generous partner."

Given his wealth and background, it would have been easy to have adopted a live of ease, ignoring those less fortunate than himself. And yet he did not. The professional cynics sniff that he chose a life of power instead. Maybe so, but if that's the case, he didn't use that power to benefit his friends and business associates (unlike others that I could mention).

He was known for his devotion to issues around racial justice, women’s reproductive rights, gender equality, age discrimination, immigration, gay rights, and civil rights. Though making headlines for his involvement in the battle over healthcare reform, this was a cause he'd devoted himself to throughout his legislative career.

Even in death, the usual crowd of cranks and soreheads continue to bitterly denounce him.

Let them. They reveal more about themselves than they do the late Lion of the Senate.

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