The Senator of Massachusetts passed away finally after a long battle with brain cancer. I will miss him, a lot, because he represented for me what a true Liberal meant, when Liberal was not a bad word in the US and when Liberal meant realistic progress, and even the art of compromise. I will take any day a Ted Kennedy over, say, a Nancy Pelosi.
True, he had personal flaws and a checkered past with deep shadows. Perhaps even more than most politicians of his age. However unlike most politicians he had a clear sense of policy, of direction, of objectives which surprisingly perhaps gave him the talent to broker deals with the most unexpected conservatives across the aisle. That is, Kennedy was a statesman in the better sense of the word, a man who considered the interests of his country above his interest and who knew how far it was wise to go in pursuing his political agenda. In other words he was a Liberal by conviction and not because it would get him more votes.
Perhaps the best example was his reelection in 1994 when Congress went Republican, making Clinton a 6 years lame duck. I still lived in the US then and I remember clearly how Democrats run away from any Liberal label. Kennedy did not, wore it proudly on his lapel and carried once again decisively Massachusetts, defeating Mitt Romney who was certainly not a bad candidate since he became governor a few years later. Even though his state is one of the most Liberal of the country the fact of the matter is that this year, in spite of an expected GOP surge even there, Ted kept his own, showing to all defeated democrats that standing for their ideas would not have made matters worse. In fact, running away of long held positions probably helped the Newt's Gop more than anything else...
In a way, living in North Carolina then I understood Kennedy better because his counter part was Jesse Helms, another man who held firm to his tenets even if they were in my view despicable. I have met more than one North Carolinian who voted for Governor Hunt and who had no problem voting for Helms. With Helms like with Kennedy you always knew where you stood. A reason that I always disliked Clinton, by the way, never forgiving him for crass errors such as his wishy-washy approach to gays in the military. I had a very GOP/libertarian friend who told me then that Clinton was a true wimp, that he should have done like Truman with the "Negroes" in the army, that he would have supported Clinton if he had done his job as a commandeer in chief. As a result of Clinton opportunism the issue still simmers in the Army and still wrecks lives.
When I was writing last night about Chomsky I should have thought about Kennedy. He never embraced dictators for convenience and even his Castro approach was more one of real politics: the guy is there, if we are not willing to invade Cuba to remove him from office then we might as well deal with him in a more constructive way. Ted Kennedy would have never betrayed his country the way Chomsky does routinely. And yet Kennedy is a truer Liberal than Chomsky will ever be. When Ted's nephew started flirting with Chavez I was afraid that he would convince his uncle to come along. But he never really did. I was not expecting Ted to go against his nephew, after all family is family and Kennedy was getting older and softer. But the fact of the matter is that I have not seen an endorsement of Chavez the way we saw from other US politicians like Delahunt or Serrano, Liberals because that is where the votes are in their districts.
And so it is that with the death of Ted Kennedy we close the 60ies and 70ies political cycle once and for all. On either side of the aisle there is not a politician that can compare to him, but neither does our era promote this style. Kennedy comes from an era where the 15 minute of fame was neither an issue nor a concern. He was from an era where the media did not rule politics, and to his credit he never let the media run his show when times changed and CNN et al. started setting the agenda. In a paradox of the American political system Kennedy was a guy with personal problems who put his integrity into his politics. Perhaps the US would be better run if more politicians were more concerned about integrity in politics than integrity in private. The legislative success of Kennedy, recognized by friends and foes, is a witness of this.