Edward Moore Kennedy, US Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, died last night at the age of 77 after a long struggle with cancer.
A giant has passed from the American political landscape, and with his passing comes the end of a great political dynasty. A private life riddled with tragedy, controversy, and heartache was the yin to the yang of a public life where he stood forth as the last great Liberal senator, a man who embraced the New Deal philosophy of FDR and marched by it all his life.
I cannot imagine American politics without a Kennedy playing a major role in it. I was born in 1959, and so many memories of my childhood and youth revolve around the Kennedy family-either in moments I remember or heard my parents and neighbors talk about. Every presidential election from 1956 to 1980 saw the Kennedy family playing a role, either as participants or as major influences. I don’t know we shall see the like again, even from the Kennedy’s. The next generation has enjoyed success, but nothing along the lines of that of Teddy, JFK, and RFK. A recent Vanity Fair article purportedly revealed the infighting already taking place in the Kennedy family over his Senatorial successor and his efforts to get Caroline in line for the vacated NY Senate seat in 2008.
I pray that his family will be able to handle the extraordinary pressure his passing will likely bring up on them, both personally and politically.
Those that knew him or followed him are better able to offer full remembrances of Senator Kennedy. I never met him, but for one exceptional year I felt I knew him.
While I have always been interested in politics, the year of my real awakening and full involvement was 1980, the year of the Ayatollah and the hostages and contested nominations and the rise of Reagan conservatism. I was a hard working College Republican, and I followed politics that year with a fervency that worried my mother and amused my friends. Even when I wasn’t trying, politics followed me. While on tour with my college concert choir we stayed overnight with a family near York, Pennsylvania. Imagine the mutual surprise when my host discovered I was a politica junkie, and I discovered he was a Democratic precinct captain-this on the weekend before the critical Pennsylvania primary between President Carter and Senator Kennedy. We talked politics all night and along the way killed a couple of gallons of milk and at least one fresh shoofly pie.
But in that memorable year nothing beyond the Reagan win stood out like the speech Ted Kennedy delivered at the 1980 Democratic convention. It is called the “Defense of Liberalism” speech, and was a cri de couer of emotion and eloquence. It’s memorable closing:
May it be said of our Party in 1980 that we found our faith again.
And may it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved, and that have special meaning for me now:
“I am a part of all that I have met
To [Tho] much is taken, much abides
That which we are, we are —
One equal temper of heroic hearts
Strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end.
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.
That speech ended his campaign, which was mired in the mud of Chappaquiddick and stonewalled by the powers of incumbency. But it was this speech that stayed with me. The passion of his delivery, the evident sincerity of his belief, struck me then and now as the measure by which we should examine how devoted one must be and how willing one must be to fight for what you believe in.
Ted Kennedy left the stage as a presidential aspirant and took up the torch of US senator, emerging by his death as one of the most important members of that body in it’s long history. Never a king, but often a kingmaker. Never the chief executive, but always the author of the laws the chief executive must uphold. It might not have been the ride he wanted, but it was a helluva ride just the same.
The Kennedy clan had a much deserved reputation for eloquence. JFK’s inaugural, RFK in the wake of the murder of Martin Luther King, Teddy in 1980. But in this time of his passing a different type of quote from a different type of author comes to mind. As Edward Moore Kennedy leaves the public stage, true to the end to the liberal philosophy he fought for his entire life, I offer the words of 2 Timothy 4:7
I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the course,
I have kept the faith
Of all the things that have and will be written about Ted Kennedy, the above can be contested by no one.
Text and MP3 of “Defense of liberalism” here.