Sunday, August 30, 2009
The meaning of the life has been lost in the wind
And some people thinkin' that the end is close by
"Stead of learnin' to live they are learning to die.
Let me die in my footsteps
Before I go down under the ground.
Of Rose and Joe Kennedy’s nine children, only three were ever truly destined for greatness. But with the death of Joe, Jr., the chosen child lost at sea in 1944, and the senseless slaying of John in 1963, and then brother Bobby five years later at the hand of an assassin’s bullet, the mantle of greatness was laid at the feet of the most unsuspecting Kennedy.
And while few had expected great things of him, he ended up surprising them all. In fact, he probably even surprised himself.
After the death of his more charming, more charismatic brothers, the last remaining son of Rose and Joe Kennedy could have retreated behind the whitewashed, perfectly mended fences of Hyannis Port. Instead, he stayed in Washington, staked his ground and found redemption by extending a hand to save those who—not unlike himself at the time—could just as easily have fallen through the cracks.
Without question, Ted Kennedy was a complex and conflicted soul— a rake, a womanizer, a drinker, a man who will forever be tainted by the names Mary Jo Kopechne, William Kennedy Smith and Michelle Cassone. But over the course of his half century in the US Senate, Kennedy by-and-large abandoned his aberrant ways and developed into a skilled politician; a child of privilege who became the trusted guardian of the poor, the oppressed, and forgotten.
Ted Kennedy stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves. Like the misunderstood, eternally misplaced Holden Caulfield, Ted Kennedy could always be counted on to stand at the edge of cliff and catch those who needed a helping hand before they disappeared into the abyss.
In addition to being a defender of the underprivileged, he was also an adept deal-maker; a man who made things happen. And if the was one thing Ted Kennedy wanted to make happen in his lifetime it was assuring affordable healthcare for all American citizens.
If there is any question that Kennedy’s passion for healthcare reform was simple political posturing, simply watch his speech at the 1978 Democratic Mid-election Conference. Kennedy’s impassioned plea is on par with any of the better-known speeches made by either of his two better-known brothers.
Kennedy's impassioned plea for healthcare reform at the 1978 Democratic Mid-election Conference
Moments after the announcement that Ted Kennedy had succumbed to his bout with brain cancer, the following made its way across the popular social media sites:
"In lieu of flowers, pass health care reform."
It’s quaint, it’s cute, it’s unquestionable heartfelt. And in the hours immediately following the news of Ted Kennedy’s death, it was the most re-twitted message on the internet.
And while it would be expected that liberal-leaning sites like ‘Political Packrat’ and ‘Radio KOS’ would jumped on the propaganda bandwagon, it was surprising that NBC Evening News anchor, Brian Williams, bought into the transparent ploy. But that’s precisely what happened last week when he, too, repeated the 8-word mantra as a way to remember Kennedy.
The irony, of course, is that Senator Kennedy would have reveled in the shameless use of his name to advance healthcare reform. After all, not a week had passed after the assassination of President Kennedy before Ted took to the airwaves to tell a nation that passage the pending Civil Rights legislation would be a fitting way to remember his brother's untimely passing.
The tactic worked. On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.
But whatever role the unabashed evocation of the fourth fallen Kennedy's memory plays in the looming debate over the president’s pending healthcare reform, Ted Kennedy can finally rest in peace knowing that he has finally stepped out from behind the long shadow cast by his more formidable brothers.
John and Robert Kennedy were two of the most exciting and vibrant politicians of the modern era. But after tolling in the trenches for an issue for close to 47 years (longer, it turns out, than either of his brothers lived) maybe the real takeaway here is that in the end endurance and experience can trump youth and vigor.
It’s not out of the question. Just ask the man behind the never-ending tour. At this pace, he'll likely outlast them all…
Go out in your country where the land meets the sun
See the craters and the canyons where the waterfalls run
Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho
Let every state in this union seep in your souls.
And you'll die in your footsteps
Before you go down under the ground.