May 21, 2008

Ted Kennedy

Some time around age 9, my mother took me by Senator Kennedy's office in Washington D.C. It was 1977. I had no idea who Ted Kennedy was at that age, but I knew my mother thought it would be good to meet him.

The senator was not in his office that day. For reasons I cannot remember, Rosie Grier was in the office. So the lesson I learned that day was not some political ideal, but that needlepoint was not a threat to your masculinity. That served me well enough, in any case.

My conservative-leaning parents did not raise me to judge people by their party affiliation. And, in fact, they encouraged me not to rush to join any political party. My education in political personal destruction came from the folks who had only scorn for all that Senator Kennedy has accomplished for our country. Scorn for the help he's offered to people no matter who they were.

Some of those sad people were a sort of young Republicans club on the campus of my alma mater. They installed themselves in a corner of the campus center during a Kennedy for Senate re-election rally. Kennedy's opponent was Mitt Romney. Romney's supporters felt victory was within their grasp, and the later vote showed they were closer than many people thought. Energized by their belief that they were going to knock out this lion of the Senate who had done so much for Massachusetts, these young angry dudes waved their signs and hissed.

Kennedy was introduced. Just as he began to speak, an organized round of boos rose to challenge him. As Kennedy's supporters turned in anger to face the Romney supporters, Kennedy raised his voice to silence any retaliatory action.

"Let them have their say." He told the crowd. "They don't have another rally to go to." It was true enough. Romney was focused on the centers of power; I never saw him in our corner of the state. His response was both generous and withering. After a moment of silence, it was clear that the angry Republicans had no response. The wind had failed them, and they had no skill or principle to back up the catcalls.

The rally continued uninterrupted.

When he was done speaking, my horrible vantage point of behind the podium turned out to be his exit strategy. As he passed by, he grabbed my hand to thank me for coming to the rally. Not one who seeks out that sort of contact, it surprised me.

A number of people have said to me, in one way or another, "what are we going to do if we lose Ted Kennedy?" A number of people have described a sinking feeling, or a gut punch. And as I said to Patti, my first thoughts were admittedly selfish. He's done so much for us; what will we do if we have to do without him? It's a mark of how much he's already done for us.

Senator Kennedy, I ought to have been thanking you at that rally. I want you to hang around for a good long time, in good health. The reason it's impossible to wish you well unselfishly is that Massachusetts (and the country) has depended on you so much for so long.

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Posted by James at May 21, 2008 9:50 AM
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I'm still feeling pretty selfish, and a little panicked at the thought of what we will do without him.

Hopefully we won't have to worry about that for a long time... but I hadn't ever thought of it before. Now that I realize the guy might be mortal, I'm freaking out.

Posted by: Julie at May 21, 2008 10:44 AM

It is sad that we are all still clinging to him in spite of how much he has given and how much he has done.

I hope he is able to pass the torch gracefully and focus on his family some before his time runs out.

Posted by: briwei at May 21, 2008 12:02 PM

I don't know what you mean by "in spite of."

I'm clinging to him because of what he's given and what he's done. Not in spite of it. (I already acknowledged that I'm selfish.)

And also because I heard the name "Romney" mentioned among those who could end up taking his seat. That was probably just idle speculation, but the thought that Kennedy's "replacement" might try to halt or even reverse the kinds of things that Kennedy dedicated his career to makes me feel sick.

Posted by: Julie at May 21, 2008 1:29 PM

My initial reaction truly was "What will we do without him," meaning not just us in MA but the country as a whole.

Ted Kennedy has touched the lives of more people than most realize. He has been a part of just about every important piece of legislation there is.

Thank god Massachusetts didn't jump on the Stupid Bandwagon in the late '80s/early '90s and impose term limits! You know how to limit a term? Vote the person out. The fact that Kennedy has been voted back in time and again testifies to how highly we think of him.

Posted by: Patti M. at May 21, 2008 1:37 PM

Beautiful post -- I love the story of the rally.

I'm the "gut-punched" one you're referring to (I tweeted that earlier). I have that wind-knocked-out-of-me mix of shock, panic, dread, and fear.

Posted by: Karen at May 21, 2008 1:39 PM

I'm right there with you on that feeling. It's worse that I felt relief when I heard he was doing well. Then the diagnosis came down, and it was a sort of whiplash.

Here's the MoveOn get well card, if anyone wants to sign it:

Posted by: James at May 21, 2008 1:43 PM

I think what Brian was getting at is that it's sad that he has become "indispensible".

After such a long and productive term of service, where he has every right to say "I have done my duty" and each of us would have no basis to say otherwise, there is nobody - either in perception or actuality - who can fill his shoes.

Not judging the reaction. It's a natural one that we're all feeling.

Posted by: Bull at May 21, 2008 2:19 PM

Thanks, Bull. Spot on what I was thinking.

Posted by: briwei at May 21, 2008 4:24 PM

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