A SUITABLE TIME
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY
...He won't be forgotten
Why the Kennedy legacy
will never really die
By RON MILLER
There is a great lesson to be learned from the life of Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy, whose death at the age of 77 has precipitated a huge wave of national mourning that I'm sure has perplexed his many outspoken enemies.
To those people who frequently vilified Ted Kennedy and, in fact, considered him a nemesis of some kind, I'm sure he seemed an overpraised failure of a man who had gotten by for decades on nothing but the famous Kennedy aura. He was, after all, the Kennedy with the most scandals dragging on his coattails and perhaps even an unsavory character to many, a profligate man who couldn't control his own appetites for excess.
If those people had patiently sat through the many hours of tributes and accolades that occupied much of the TV networks' broadcast time from the hour of his death through this past weekend, I think they might have had their eyes opened. You do not ever get such a vast amount of sadness and grieving nor such an outpouring of genuine affection for the passing of a scoundrel. This man was loved by millions--and for good reason.
In my opinion, Sen. Kennedy was our greatest living legislator. But he was much, much more than that, of course. He was a man who inherited not only great wealth, but also a destiny that was manifest for the last surviving son of the original family dynasty. He trembled under that enormous burden and, perhaps because of that, he made some terrible mistakes in his personal life and created some tragedies of his own doing.
But he refused to go away and let the record stand, flawed as it was after his failure to win his party's nomination for the U.S. presidency in 1980 and after leading in the initial campaigning. He stayed on in Congress and began the long, long process of restoring the light to his reputation, righting his wrongs of the past by dedicating his life to the improvement of life for others.
If you listened to the testimony of so many people over the weekend, you must have been impressed by the number of sincere personal things this man had done for others that never were reported in the press. If you saw the thousands of citizens who lined the highways as his funeral cortege passed by, you had to recognize that a great many regular citizens of this country had turned out to wave goodbye to a man they felt had worked a lifetime on their behalf.
I think America needed to hear this and to hear it right now. I certainly needed to hear it after suffering much frustration at the quibbling going on over the passage of a bill to fix our very sick national health program, the one cause that Kennedy had made his own during the last years of his life.
Yes, that bickering between political parties had caused me to lose yet another measure of respect for the Congress. I needed to hear Republicans like Orrin Hatch and John McCain stand up for Kennedy and praise him for his willingness to seek their counsel on major issues and to work hard for bi-partisan support for a health bill. I definitely needed to hear Democratic Sen. John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden deliver what may have been the most eloquent, most heartfelt speeches of their lives out of their love for and respect for Ted Kennedy.
I needed to hear Pres. Barack Obama vow publicly to do whatever it takes to win the health care battle in Sen. Kennedy's memory. I saw conviction in his eyes and I believe he finally is going to stand up and start using the power of the presidency to bring some order to the health care melee.
And I needed to hear all the younger Kennedy family members stand up and speak out forcefully about the legacy of their illustrious relative. I saw in their eyes more than just their grief. I saw their resolve to not let this be the final chapter in the Kennedy saga. This is a group of enormously talented, resourceful and well-financed young Americans who still have a lot more to give their country. They have seen the example of Teddy Kennedy paraded before them and I'm betting one or two of them will rise up and be heard from again real soon.
I am a child of the Kennedy Era. I was first able to vote in the election that pitted John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon for the presidency. I would be dishonest if I didn't admit to being impressed with the suave, handsome man who became our president in 1960, with his beautiful and stylish wife and their adorable children.
But far more than that I was impressed by his call to my generation to help him do the job of rebuilding America. We responded in great waves to a young president who had promised to help bring racial and sexual equality to our communities and to develop together a new America that valued the arts and families as much as it valued military might and flights to the moon.
We now have a young president who brings the same sort of excitement to the youth of America. Sen. Ted Kennedy helped put him in the White House and I know he was anxious to do whatever he could to help Barack Obama restore our image in the world and set us back again on a steady path toward peace, toward leadership in education, the exploration of space and, yes, in health care.
On Sunday's "Meet the Press," presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said Ted Kennedy probably was the greatest all-around senator in American history. His awe-inspiring record of legislative successes would certainly seem to put him in the top ranks. He was known, in his lifetime, to inspire the people who worked for him--and you must have noticed how many hundreds of his present and former employes turned out to pay their respects to him.
I think Sen. Edward Kennedy will continue to inspire a new generation. He may have been born to wealth, but he did a lot of very great things for others with that wealth. He may not have risen to lead the nation as its president, but he left behind a legacy of public service that may indeed be unrivalled.
He made up for his failings many times over and straightened out his life, all done in the public eye, which is rarely forgiving. I think that is a huge part of his legacy--the lesson he taught us by living his life the right way at last. He taught us that we can overcome our shortcomings and win the race by just trying harder than anyone else.
That's the kind of lesson that today's young people can really take to heart: It's not over until it's over. It worked that way for Ted Kennedy and the man we said goodbye to this past weekend was a hero to his public, worthy to stand proudly beside his two martyred brothers through the ages.
©2009 by Ron Miller. This column first posted Aug. 31, 2009.
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