Thursday, May 22, 2008

On Senator Kennedy

I went and asked others to gather their thoughts about Ted Kennedy, and now I find I’m having difficulty corralling my own.

JFK was the first President I knew. I was only eight years old on November 22, 1963—the day his presidency was ended by an assassin’s bullet. Even so, I recall clearly the images of that day and the days following. Jackie Kennedy in her blood-stained powder-pink suit; a shaken LBJ taking the oath of office with his hand resting on a hastily acquired bible; little John-John’s grave salute; the flag-draped casket rumbling through the streets of the capitol, the prodigious assembly of the Kennedy clan on foot behind it. And the photographs—color, black & white, blurred frames of home-movie film, from as many angles as they could lay hands upon—showing the President’s head exploding…over and over and over.

Less than five years later, we were tortured by images of Kennedy’s younger brother Bobby lying on the floor of a California hotel, stunned and broken, an assassin’s bullet in his brain. I was almost thirteen when Bobby Kennedy was killed. But for some reason I don’t recall as much of the media coverage of his assassination as I do of JFK’s. Two things come to mind: I remember that the country was still reeling from the assassination of Martin Luther King two months before. And I remember Ted Kennedy, his voice strained with tears, eloquently eulogizing his brother.

I remember thinking how hard it must be to be Ted Kennedy. How must it have been to be the baby of that privileged household, and suddenly have all their political and social aspirations thrust upon his shoulders—at the callow age of 36? He most certainly was not the best nor the brightest of the Kennedy scions, but he was the last one standing. And as such, he would take on that burden. He had no choice.

Through the years, Ted has lived a difficult and challenging life. He fell heir to the Kennedy power and entitlement, but he also inherited their penchant for scandal and tragedy. Power and entitlement saved him from the Chappaquiddick scandal, but could not spare him from the tragedies of an alcoholic wife or a son crippled by cancer. And he has toughed out forty years of increasingly blood-thirsty media that find their greatest satisfaction (and readership) in toppling or at least tarnishing anything even resembling a "hero" in the public’s eye, and thus have chosen the Kennedy clan as one of their favorite targets.

Through it all, he’s been "Senator Kennedy." In 1962, he succeeded JFK as Senator from Massachusetts (the seat was virtually handed to him as soon has he became old enough to serve.) And he has held it ever since. Through the assassinations of both his brothers; from Viet Nam through 9/11 and Iraq; through the Cold War to the fall of the Soviet Union; through Democratic majorities and minorities, and the terms of eight presidents, Ted Kennedy has served. Forty-six years. Now, his constituents back him on his own merits, rather than on those of his two long-dead brothers or his politically potent surname. He’s the elder statesman…the liberal lion. The embodiment of everything the right wing loves to hate. He’s done his best.

So I wish Ted Kennedy godspeed as he faces his own bullet to the brain.  May he fight the good fight, and may his brothers embrace him when it’s over.


mutualaide said...

Beautiful essay Lisa.

thesheatons said...

At least Ted made it into his seventies. I'm sure there were times when he didn't think he'd make to fifty. And the next generation is in the wings.

As for me, I think I'll hear those damn drums from 63 in my memory until the day I die.

Wonderful essay,