Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Edward Kennedy

The end of an era came with the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy last night. Although no one really talked about it openly, since he was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago his days were numbered. Sad yes, but certainly no surprise. Similarly, the wall-to-wall coverage of his death and his life comes as no surprise either. And it is entirely appropriate. Like him or not, agree or disagree, one cannot discount the sacrifices that he and his family made for this country. This is not a time for politics; it is a time for reflection, for history, for legacy and for gratitude. It seems as though most of the partisans get that, but not all.

As expected, there is a flood of statements, sentiments and remembrances of not only Edward Kennedy, but also of the entire Kennedy clan. Although I am not captivated by the need to know just how everyone feels about this history in the making, I have been exposed to a smattering – a large smattering – of the various and sundry reflections. They are coming from everywhere, all the time, and from virtually every position along the political spectrum. Almost without exception, these post mortems note the large body of service Kennedy was committed to and, friend and foe alike, they tend to stay away from politics – past and present. Friends and political allies speak of his ideals and his work ethic while those on the other side of the aisle speak of his tenacity – and his work ethic.

Kennedy entered the U.S. Senate at a time when reaching across the aisle to work together was considered admirable. Those from the same era remember. Even those newer to the body have commented on his willingness to compromise, an ability to find common ground – even in a day where politics is more about winning and losing than serving the nation. There are a few, however, who have taken his death as an opportunity to spin their agenda, and it comes from both ends of the political spectrum. It is unfortunately predictable that some view politics as the be-all and end-all, as a game in which the rules are made up as we go along. In other words, there are no rules.

From the left, we have Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. In her statement, she said, “Ted Kennedy's dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration." Translation: In order to properly honor Kennedy, we have to pass healthcare reform. This thinly veiled guilt trip is inappropriate at any time, but especially in a statement that should be honoring a longtime public servant. Did Kennedy want healthcare reform? Absolutely, he has for many years. Did he favor this yet to be finalized proposal? It looks like it, but it is not a done deal yet and no one could possibly know if he would have supported the final version. But to use his death to forward it less than 12 hours later is shameful.

On the other side, I offer as an example the one and only Rush Limbaugh. Admittedly, I expected as much from him, but I still held out hope that he would offer some kind of short but sincere acknowledgment of Kennedy’s legacy – and then go about whatever he had on his agenda for the day. I hoped that he would just leave it alone, perhaps save it for another day. I know… I’m a dreamer. Of course his spin was in response to the other pundits and politicians, thus absolving Limbaugh of any blame. It is his all too familiar battle whine, “Well they started it.” His response was, in a nutshell, that honoring Kennedy by passing this legislation would in fact be a dishonor to him. The implication being, of course, that Kennedy would not support such legislation. His evidence, in this case twisting Kennedy's own medical issues into a string of logical fallacies, is the usual myopic hyperbole Limbaugh is so well known for.

Although it is reassuring to hear the many sincere statements from those who worked with, for and against Kennedy, at the same time it is disheartening to see a few use his death as political opportunity. It comes neither as a shock nor a surprise, however, that some would view it as such no matter how well rationalized. It is at once a glimpse into the nobility that public service on this level can be and the disingenuousness it too often is. The Kennedys, like them or not, served this nation admirably and paid a tragic price. When one takes into consideration that which is most important, their lives were not charmed by any stretch of the imagination; but serve they did. Edward Kennedy is the second to the last of an important generation of Kennedys – we should remember what he did, not what some still want to do.

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