De mortuis nil nisi bonum.
Posted by sanityinjection on August 26, 2009
For those whose Latin is rusty (or nonexistent), the title of this column means, “About the dead speak nothing but good.” It is in that spirit that I, a long-time and confirmed opponent of the Kennedys, will try to make a few remarks on the passing of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.
In that light, I am not going to drag up the scandals, the wealth, the ultraliberal voting record or the obvious privileges of being a Kennedy in Massachusetts. You know all that stuff anyway.
Instead I will try to find some positives. One thing I can say about Ted Kennedy is that he was not a crook. In the sense that, I never heard of him involved in any shady financial dealings or selling his influence to the highest bidder. Kennedy was beloved by left-wing special interests, to be sure, but he was not their tool, rather, their hero. He genuinely believed in the causes he espoused, and that allowed him to lead on those issues. Also, from what I hear, he was trustworthy. Republicans who worked with him say that if you made a deal with Kennedy, he stuck to it, and that sense of personal trust also helped him to succeed legislatively where others could not.
Finally, it is common knowledge among the politically savvy in Massachusetts that if you wanted something from a Senator, you called Kennedy, rather than his junior colleague, John Kerry. While the policy differences between the two were insignificant, Kennedy’s office had a reputation for getting back to people and getting things done while Kerry’s office is disinterested and ineffective. That may reflect Kerry’s preference for foreign policy issues, or Kennedy’s ability to attract top-quality staffers. But however it came about, Kennedy was effective, plugged in, engaged in a way his colleague is not. Despite his wealth and famous family, Kennedy was never accused of being aloof like Kerry. He always retained that common touch that is so critical to political success in America.
Kennedy’s legacy will only be enhanced by comparison to the ghastly collection of nonentities that will soon be clamoring to replace him if his nephew Joe decides not to run. Look for Congressman Michael Capuano to be the favorite with his sizable campaign war chest, facing a strong challenge from state Attorney General Martha Coakley and possibly former Congressman Marty Meehan as well.
Say what you want about Kennedy (and I’ve said a lot of unflattering things, none of which I regret): He loved his job, tried hard to be good at it, and the general consensus of historians will be that he succeeded. Many politicians fail because their hubris causes them to aim too high. Kennedy had such a setback in 1980 when he challenged sitting President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic primary. Not only Kennedy but the Democratic Party as a whole suffered as a result. To his credit, Kennedy learned from that mistake and in the next 30 years never sought anything more than to keep getting re-elected to the Senate. If his legacy were to be nothing more than that lesson, it would be one worth studying.
OK, I think I’m about done. I will now grit my teeth and try to endure the next two weeks of cloying, insufferable media sycophancy. Please, let’s move on and talk about something else. Health care reform, anyone? 😉