Ted Kennedy: There Went a Man:
Finally, we must take a measure of the man. Not the person, or the legislator, or the family member. No, the man. Ted Kennedy was more of a man's man than any of the brush-clearing, hick-talking, pick-up driving politicians who overcompensate again and again by faking it. No, Kennedy demonstrated, through all the ups and downs, again and again what a real man is. It is a type of masculinity that we rarely see anymore because it is a fearlessness that few are allowed to embrace.
Put aside the money for a moment. Wealth makes life easier but it does not make one happy and it is not a measure of character. Don't you think that Kennedy would have given away his whole fortune to have his brothers back?
For a man does not shy away from the tragedies of his life. When John was assassinated, Kennedy took up the cause of the civil rights movement as his first major action in the Senate. When Bobby was killed, he began to push even harder against the Vietnam War. When his 12 year-old son, Ted, Jr., had to have a leg amputated to prevent the cancer there from spreading in 1973, Kennedy threw himself into the cause of rights for people with disabilities as much as his sister, Eunice, had, a crusade that would last the rest of his life.
A man fucks up again and again, but he owns his mistakes and learns from them. Ted Kennedy wore his flaws openly in his personal life. Some of it was the price of juvenile overindulgence (even as an adult) and some of it was just stupidity. The question is less about fucking up, but how a man reacts to it. He was kicked out of Harvard for cheating on an exam, so he joined the military (although he would achieve none of the glory of John and Joe, Jr.). When the Chappaquiddick incident happened, he nutted up and told the voters to decide on his fate. He was a hard-drinking son of a bitch who screwed around on his first wife, a Dean Martin-like punchline to jokes about alcoholism and a tabloid laughingstock. During that period, among other things, he was getting funding cut off to Chile because of Pinochet's barbarism, pushing legislation to help political refugees, getting sanctions imposed on apartheid-era South Africa, negotiating with Gorbachev on nuclear missiles, stopping Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination, and strengthening the Civil Rights Act. What did you do on your years-long bender? He paid, too, with his presidential ambitions dashed. And when he was slugging 'em back like a frat boy with his nephews on a night that ended with William Kennedy Smith arrested on an accusation of rape, Kennedy made another public reckoning about who he was as a man in a speech in October 1991. And despite all he had accomplished before, he grew up, finally, understanding that to be a man one must become a man.
A man works to help those who need help. A real man is a liberal because a real man is unafraid of change and progress and difference. Let us come back to the money. The Kennedy family has always seen wealth as a privilege, a burden, and an opportunity to do good for others. Yes, it is easier to support charities and to have the time to work for various causes. But Kennedy made it his role in government to level the playing field. Where do you wanna go with this? Other than his work that climaxed with the Americans With Disabilities Act, other than his support for civil rights legislation going back to the 1964 act, we could talk about the Ryan White CARE Act, which gave funds to cities hardest hit by the AIDS crisis; we could talk about his intense support for the rights of workers through raising the minimum wage and supporting union goals; we could talk about his work for housing, for education, for women and children, for the Family and Medical Leave Act. We could talk about how he opposed the Iraq War, how he was working to provide educational opportunities to kids in Muslim countries, how he helped end the war in Northern Ireland. We could talk about how he believed, his entire career, that health care for everyone was a right, not a privilege, with COBRA and S-CHIP having been accomplished because of him. He was an unabashed, proud liberal whose full-throated speeches roared in defense of the whole ideology against the ignorance of those who would keep progress from being achieved.
A man is willing to embrace his enemies. Yesterday, Ron Reagan, Jr. had his mother on his radio show to talk about how much the Reagans loved Ted Kennedy. Kennedy and Nancy Reagan were allies on stem cell research funding, but the former first lady talked about how she and her husband were dear friends with Kennedy. Kennedy worked with Orrin Hatch, Richard Lugar, both George Bushes, and anyone he could to accomplish his goals. That's called politics. Compromise was a willingness for both sides to move. When George W. Bush dicked him over on No Child Left Behind funding, Kennedy had to know that a tide had shifted in a way that was going to make the entire process of legislating more rancorous and difficult. The political nature of the nation was moving into entrenchment, which was not how Ted Kennedy functioned.
A man knows how to die. A man understands that the end comes and doesn't desperately cling to every millisecond of life that medical science can squeeze out of him. No, a man dies with his family, in a place he loves, having done much, knowing that there was much still to be done, but accepting that there's only so much one can live.