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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A great loss

The day began with the news that Ted Kennedy had died.
While not completely unexpected in light of his health condition, the news saddened me. My wife actually came home from work this morning with tears in her eyes.
We both held Kennedy in the highest regard, even if he has been the subject of so much polemic. Any objective observer could agree that he had what very few on Capitol Hill have: an utterly sincere drive to protect and advocate for the people of this country, the every day men and women as opposed to the corporations and interest groups.
Many vignettes illustrating that came out today. There was the lady who called his office to complain about the deteriorating quality of her mail delivery service. A week later, as if by magic, the problem was resolved. Or the group of Massachusetts servicemen on their way home from Iraq. The government flew them to their base in Indiana and provided them with bus tickets home and the agony of an 18-hour ride in order to save money. Some hero's welcome. Kennedy intervened and, rightfully, the men were flown home to Devens Air Force Base.
But more importantly to the country there was his unrelenting fight for fairness in the realm of social issues. A member of the powerful and wealthy Kennedy dynasty, his interests may have laid elsewhere than in universal healthcare, quality education for all and civil rights. Like so many others who were blessed with money and social status, he could have basked in the glory of his brothers and enjoyed a comfortable, unproductive life. Instead he devoted 47 years to the people of this country, almost five decades spent fighting for what he believed was right and just. What personal interest did he have in universal healthcare other than knowing that a responsible government should take care of its citizens? How would he benefit from children receiving proper education or an increase in minimum wage?
Sadly, many people I've spoken to only remember him for what happened in Chappaquiddick many years ago and his affection for the bottle. There was so much more to Ted Kennedy than that. I always regarded him as a good man filled with empathy for others and a strong desire to give back for the fortunes that he was blessed with. As many of his former opponents have noted, Kennedy was able to reach across party lines and was close friends with some of the highest-ranking Republicans. He had a knack for pushing his issue as far as he could and compromise just enough to get an acceptable bill out.
Unlike so many others, he boasted a political spine. Kennedy was his own man. Back in October of 2002, for instance, he voted against Resolution 114, which granted President George W. Bush war powers against Iraq. He was one of only 23 to vote against it. Hilary Clinton and John Kerry, who would later on campaign against the war, sadly did not, for political safety.
I had the pleasure to meet him several times in my previous career and like Clinton and only a handful of others in Washington, he came across as genuine.

While National Public Radio ran a day-long tribute to Kennedy, interviewing many Republican leaders such as Sen. Orrin Hatch who spoke emotionally about the good friend and colleague they had lost, Fox News went on something of a rampage.
Out of what could perhaps be better described as morbid curiosity, I flicked my TV to Fox News to see how they were covering the story. On came O'Reilly, speaking with a blonde contributor whose name escapes me.
You would expect even Fox to show a level of decorum following the death of such a prominent figure. But no. Asked about whether he had done anything positive, the contributor replied "Well, he did push through quite a few liberal ideas, some of them successfully," emphasis on "liberal." Fighting for disabled Americans and children could hardly be construed as liberalism. Empathy, perhaps. And those "liberal" ideas today protect even disabled Republicans and the children of uninsured conservatives. We all know Kennedy was the most liberal member of Congress, but coming out of Fox News, the word has an insulting connotation.
She later went on to question his true political legacy and to brand him as uncompromising, which according to even the higher ranks of the Republican congressional leadership is blatantly wrong.
Have we reached a point in television "news" (note the quotemarks) where it is acceptable to, pardon the expression, piss on someone's grave in this way?
I wonder how O'Reilly, Hannity and the rest of the Fox team would react to a commentator on the day of Dick Cheney's death calling the former vice president a liar, a manipulator and a self-agrandiser. Wait... that is actually factually correct...
No matter what side of the aisle you stand on, I believe Kennedy should be celebrated as the driving force of many good initiatives, a major figure in American history and the final chapter in a line of extraordinary leaders and the closest thing this country has had to a royal family.
He was also a flawed man who himself admitted in the early 1990s that he had led a questionable personal life and that those issues were his to confront.
However, I do not believe one can achieve greatness without first being flawed. Kennedy certainly overcame those shortcomings and this country has lost a truly great man.


Blogger 'Captain Craig' said...

Good for you CA Wilko for saying what needs to be said about Teddy. Not all pilots are blindly conservative, and it's good to see that you can appreciate someone's qualities while forgiving their personal missteps. Teddy did indeed have a big heart for the common American, especially blue collar and disadvantaged ones. There is nothing wrong with the government being compassionate toward it's citizens, and what's more is we can afford it. I believe even though our government doesn't do it directly in his name, this is application of Jesus' 2nd 'greatest commandment': to "Love others as yourselves". Take care. Nice blog.

9:05 PM  
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