Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Year of No Small Amount of Magical Thinking

When Senator Ted Kennedy was diagnosed with malignant glioma last year, somewhere inside, you knew he was going to die from it, and sooner rather than later. But this is Ted Kennedy we're talking here. The guy with nine freakin' lives. Politically and personally. Hadn't he survived a plane crash that killed two people? Hadn't he survived Chappaquiddick? The car wreck and the scandal that followed? Hadn't he survived the loss of every one of his brothers and most of his sisters as well?

Surely, somehow, I thought, if anyone can talk or negotiate or legislate his way out of malignant glioma, it would be Ted Kennedy.

I was wrong.

He passed away last night, surrounded by his loved ones, a relatively peaceful passing for one who lived such a tumultuous life.

For all his scandalous ways and his penchant for finding trouble (or for it finding him), for all the public dismissals of him as the least powerful, least potent of the Kennedy brothers, it was Ted Kennedy who left the most lasting imprint on American domestic policy. He has, as Time Magazine noted in April 2006, upon naming him one of America's 10 Best Senators, "amassed a titanic record of legislation affecting the lives of virtually every man, woman and child in the country". He so endeared himself to Democrats in Massachusetts that he was a dead-lock as Democratic senatorial candidate in every election since 1964. He weathered every storm, showed up for every battle, and didn't back down from a fight. When America was French kissing George W. Bush up one side and down the other (and don't look away, you assholes -- you know who you are!), Ted Kennedy openly stood up to the President on the topic of an invasion of Iraq, and took no small amount of flack for it. He was a Democrat and a progressive (not necessarily synonymous these days), and proud of both labels.

As late as last week, when he clearly saw that his end was near, he was on the phone, encouraging Massachusetts lawmakers to allow the governor the power to appoint his temporary replacement, so that the business of the Senate -- including his darling, health care reform -- would proceed unaffected.

The storm of malignant glioma, in spite of all our magical thinking, even Ted Kennedy could not weather. In his passing, a huge gaping hole of leadership has been created. I pray with all my heart that someone with the same kind of tenacity and dedication to public service steps up to fill it.

Rest in peace, Senator. Thank you for making me proud to be a Democrat.


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