Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The New York Times today has an excellent obituary for the late Senator Ted Kennedy.
Moving in a somewhat different direction from the obit, even more than Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy was a link to the world of the mid-20th century, and at the same time was one of the major forces breaking down the old order. It's amazing to see some of the names he defeated or retired. He beat the grandson of Henry Cabot Lodge for his Senate seat in 1962, and the son of Huey Long for Majority Whip in 1968.
In 1990, Jesse Helms released perhaps the most disgusting and overtly racist ad in the history of American television. That ad, "Hands," specifically accuses his opponent of supporting "Ted Kennedy's racial quota law."
As powerful and influential as Ted Kennedy became (I think it's undeniable that he is actually the Kennedy who ended up leaving the biggest mark), he was also a constant reminder of what the United States and the Democratic party was twice robbed of. His power, effectiveness, and willingness to be an unabashed liberal even during the backlash years make me sad to think of what we missed out on in Robert and Jack.
If there's anything from Kennedy's life and work that I hope we'll hear more about and that Democrats will take to heart, it's that Kennedy became the party's single most effective senator not by watering down his beliefs, as the Blue Dogs often do, but by finding points of common ground with individual Republicans and maintaining personal friendships with many of them. There are very few, if any, Democrats of whom Senate Republicans speak so fondly, and that includes all of the centrist Democrats. Kennedy's ability to work with conservatives like Orrin Hatch while remaining implacably liberal should be a model for Democrats, not an outmoded skill set.