A Day of Sadness
Wednesday, May 21, 2008; 8:45 AM
The outpouring of affection and tribute for Ted Kennedy, cutting across partisan lines, speaks volumes about the place he has occupied in our national life.
The Massachusetts Democrat has been an incredibly productive member of the U.S. Senate in the four and a half decades since he won the seat vacated by his brother the president. But that is not what the emotional reaction to the diagnosis of his brain tumor is about.
It is about the family, which has been touched by tragedy for so long, and for which he is the link to history. Two brothers, assassinated. John Jr., killed in a plane crash. Jackie's cancer, Patrick's alcohol problem, and on and on. Some of these problems were self-inflicted, including the horror of Chappaquiddick, but Kennedy has soldiered on. At 76, he has lived the long life of which JFK and RFK were robbed.
The other reason this has struck so deep a nerve, I think, is that Kennedy has been a happy warrior in pursuit of his liberal goals. Even those who are opposed to just about everything he stands for respect the relationships he has built with the other side and the moments of cooperation, such as his working with President Bush to pass the now-criticized No Child Left Behind legislation. Ted is a throwback to the days before national politics was quite so toxic.
(A digression: Michelle Malkin is among those conservatives asking readers to put aside political differences and pray for Kennedy and his family, and most of her commenters did just that. But there were a few, revoltingly hateful exceptions-- posters who were reveling in the news and, in one case, talked of celebrating.)
I remember interviewing Kennedy during his 1980 campaign and thinking he really had trouble making the case for why he should be president. But his "dream will never die" speech at Madison Square Garden was one of the great moments of political oratory.
"News about the Kennedys has so often come in shocking bursts, such as plane crashes and gunfire, that yesterday's revelation that the senior senator from Massachusetts is suffering from a deadly illness had a quiet poignancy all its own," the Boston Globe says.
"Days when Democrats worried that an assassin might try to remove the last Kennedy brother have long since receded, and Ted Kennedy carries a new image as the Senate's indefatigable warrior. So it was a surprise that something as ordinary as cancer would be what slows down Kennedy's relentless drive to promote liberal causes, build coalitions, and pass legislation."
Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama, so ballyhooed by the media, may turn out to have been his last major political act.
Hillary Clinton paid tribute to Kennedy after winning Kentucky last night, as Obama did in his speech. By the way, isn't it downright weird that Obama gets humiliated in Kentucky, barely reaching 30 percent, and still goes out and gives a celebratory speech?
I thought the networks were a little less dismissive of Hillary's Kentucky blowout than they were when she clobbered Obama in West Virginia. That's two bad losses for him in a week. But the talk still turned quickly to What does she want? More leverage? The vice presidency, perhaps? Soon the pundits were spinning scenarios about how he could keep her off the ticket.
For Hillary to keep proclaiming that "we're winning the popular vote" doesn't make it so. But the Obama camp must be concerned at the margin in these losing states, even as he revels in winning a majority of pledged delegates (as we all knew he would) by carrying Oregon.