Monday, August 31, 2009

Ted Kennedy

The weekend long memorial of Ted Kennedy was surprisingly emotional for me. I don't know why, but I cried. Perhaps it the some strange mythical status that my Irish Catholic (OK not really, but I can't escape all of it) background places on the Kennedy name. I was in Washington D.C. last week when Senator Kennedy pasted away and watched as the flag at the National Zoo was lowered to half staff by a National Park Service officer. I was at the zoo about to see an elephant and a zebra and the sight of a man lowering the flag because someone I had never met died made me sad. I have not gotten very emotional about the passing of other public figures but I felt connected to this one. I can't imagine this will happen to me or the country again for a long time.

I watched most of the services over the weekend, switching back and forth between CNN, MSNBC and Fox News to witness the differences in the coverage. I think the Fox News coverage was better than the other two. I think the Fox folks tended not to get too emotional about the death and the events after. I found that refreshing as I was emotional already. CNN had its usual panel of too many people that made the coverage strange. I think at one point CNN had seven people on their panel, not including Anderson Cooper who was the host. MSNBC's coverage was uncomfortable. First Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews should not be in the same room with each other. Their joint discomfort with each other is palpable even if you are just hearing them speak. Olbermann attempts at soaring rhetoric sometimes seems forced and distracting. While Matthew's feeling is genuine his overt emotions was not comforting. By far the best person involved in covering the events this weekend on the three cable networks was MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. Unfortunately she was only involved on Friday.

Of all the written memorials to Senator Kennedy, I found Andrew Sullivan's essay in the Times to be the fullest, but there are many others that were just as good. I enjoyed the Sullivan piece because it is not the gushing liberal writing on the loss of the great liberal senator, it is the thoughtful conservative writing about the loss of the great American and part of the myth that is America.

Sullivan writes:
"Kennedy’s insistence on what he saw as racial justice and his deepest passion, universal healthcare, framed his legacy. There wasn’t a gay rights bill this compulsive heterosexual didn’t champion. Even if you disagreed with him on some issues, as I did, there was nothing subtle or contrived about his liberalism.

It was a big-hearted sort of politics, an expansively righteous sense of duty and, as such, an integral part of what makes Anglo-American politics work. Conservatism needs a Reagan and Thatcher; liberalism needs its Kennedys. Because we all need myth and we all need royalty – even if it is strained through the sieve of democratic rule.

Enoch Powell once remarked that all political careers end in failure. The strange thing about Kennedy is that his own might end posthumously in success. His anointed son Obama and a Democratic Congress will almost certainly pass a bill this autumn that will expand access to healthcare to all Americans. He fought for this for 40 years; and despite extreme resistance, peaking now, it seems clear that the Democrats have the votes to pass universal insurance, paid by government subsidy, for private healthcare."

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