The End of an Era (August 31, 2009)

I realize I am a few days late on this. I have been on a post-London crash: fatigue, flu, trying to catch up on “real” life while pining away for a return to the UK as soon as possible. I did not watch much TV, nor read a paper while I was away, somewhat unusual for me. Therefore I couldn’t really dive into the import surrounding the death of this last Kennedy Lion until Saturday morning, as I watched his televised funeral while running on the treadmill at the gym.

The point of this post is neither to canonize nor eulogize Teddy Kennedy (1932-2009). There has been enough of that going on in recent days, and as we know, there’s no such thing as a saint, and certainly not amongst the Kennedys. But, as I tried to explain to Eddie over the weekend, Ted’s death means a lot more than just an open Democratic Senate seat at a critical time for healthcare reform. In some post or another, there has been a Kennedy in American government since the end of World War II – well over 60 years. With the demise of Caroline Schlossberg Kennedy’s quest for the New York Senate seat vacated this year by Hillary Rodham Clinton, we may have finally witnessed the end of the Kennedy political dynasty. As I explained to Eddie, it is a rare feat for a family to put that long of a political imprint on a nation, especially when there are no kings or queens involved.

This may go without saying, but there has never been a time in my life when Ted Kennedy was not the Senator from Masschusetts. When I was a young girl, most of the talk I heard was derision: Ted was just a poor man’s Jack or Bobby, a pretender who couldn’t get elected President because of his overt womanizing, drinking and personal problems. I think in Ted’s case respect was earned by the force of sheer longevity and tenacity. I get the feeling that the Senator knew what was being said in the 80s, and purposely spent the next two decades with his head down, working hard and reaching across the aisle in ways that are often aped but never duplicated. It is arguably true that Senator Kennedy’s endorsement of Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary put the nail in the coffin on Hill’s run, and breathed new life into the “Yes, we can” man. We have 50 senators in this country, yet it cannot be denied that the words of Ted Kennedy carried a hell of a lot more weight than say, Roland Burris.

It is ironic and tragic (depending on which side of the issue you stand) that Senator Kennedy passed away during a tense time for his passion issue: health care reform. Leaders on both sides of the aisle are stating that getting a bill out, in any sort of partisan way, may be more difficult without the input and diplomacy of Massachusett’s senior Senator. As if reform needed any other obstacles. Is it naive of me to hope that the harsh partisan rhetoric might get a breather out of everyone’s mutual respect for Ted Kennedy? I think we have a shot of getting through to Orrin Hatch and John McCain.

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