Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The last roar of the "lion"

The media in the United States completely loses its grip on reality when a Kennedy, any Kennedy related within a couple of degrees of sanguininity to Joe Kennedy, Sr., dies. And the media's reaction to the death of Edward M. Kennedy, the last and in many ways least of the four sons of Joe, has had truly preposterous episodes.

There's the Melissa Lafsky reaction: What would Mary Jo Kopechne "have thought about arguably being a catalyst for the most successful Senate career in history . . . Who knows — maybe she’d feel it was worth it."

And there's the Joyce Carol Oates nonsense.

The Monk is offended by the notion of Ted Kennedy as the "last lion" of the Senate -- THE Last Lion was Churchill and Kennedy was a far inferior man.

The brothers Kennedy included a war hero who died on a bombing run in World War II, a war hero and President who was assassinated by a Communist sympathizer, and a principled civil rights leader who was assassinated by an Arab nationalist. Joe, Jr.'s political career never became a full reality; John Kennedy was a tax-cutter and Cold Warrior (one of two the Democrats nominated as President from 1948-88); Robert Kennedy was a civil rights stalwart of the Martin Luther King, Jr. approach, not the Jesse Jackson affirmative-action-as-reparations approach that Ted Kennedy heeled toward.

As a Senator, Kennedy was what he was -- an old-line liberal of no real fixed ideology other than pro-union, pro-state, pro-liberal interest group. His best decisions included supporting deregulation of the airline industry and the phones. He supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which (as written) was a legislative triumph . . . but he also supported the affirmative action, quota, race-conscious accounting of its implementation that was anathema to its drafters (see Hubert H. Humphrey's defense of the bill when an opponent claimed it would begin a quota system).

The hagiography will continue apace despite the facts of Kennedy's heinous personal actions and uglier moments in public life (two words: Robert Bork). Of course, there is likely much good to balance some of the worst of the bad -- after all, the licentious Kennedy counted the upstanding Orrin Hatch as one of his best friends; and the story that Ted, Jr. recounted about his father, 12-year old Ted Jr.'s prosthetic, and their determination for Ted, Jr. to climb a snowy hill to ride his sled in the snow after Ted Jr. lost his leg to cancer is a paradigm of fatherhood.

There is also a lot to be said for the Kennedy mystique -- The Monk himself understood the Kennedy charisma when he met Rep. Joe Kennedy (RFK's eldest son) walking and shaking hands in a park outside Boston in 1993 during a services fair to help the homeless (we were there on behalf of this fine group). The fair seemed to stop as a short man with curly hair, bright eyes, and a big smile wandered the grounds chatting up the attendees.

But there is also reality. Ted Kennedy was an influential Senator in a narrow niche but his overall impact on policy, politics, and America are far less than what the eulogies in Time, Newsweek, the NY Times and other mainstream media outlets have declared. He was not the greatest or most accomplished of the Kennedy brothers. Ultimately, he probably knew that.