I slid the flag half-way down its pole before I put it on display this morning. A small gesture, but I needed to do it.
Ted’s clarion calls for compassionate public policy have stirred me most of my life. His clear rhetoric slashed through the technical/political mumbling on vitally important issues from the Vietnam War to health care. He said what I felt, and said it unambiguously and unapologetically.
His life reflects the standards that were instilled in me growing up in Massachusetts in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Ted was a man who inherited his family’s imperative to serve as a political leader. As the fourth, but only surviving brother, Ted was more called than elected to the Senate for nine terms. I understood and understand his motivation of public service. He wasn’t after money or personal power. He was meeting his obligation to his fellow humans.
Much of Ted’s personal life was an apparent mess. Too often he seemed intent on validating the stereotype of the drunken, lecherous Irish pol. Yet, in this area, too, his career reinforced my in-bred understanding of How Society Should Work. In the early days of his public career, the press and the voters were purposely blind to the human foibles of office holders so long as the weaknesses didn’t affect policy: sexual affairs were none of our business, but bribery for influence were mortal sins. His black-out drunken misbehavior at Chappaquiddick tested the limits of this private-public divide, but, at least for a majority of Massachusetts voters, that evening did not break their compact with Ted. Later on journalistic mores changed, and Ted’s personal weaknesses were exposed and printed. The world was not improved by the knowledge of Ted’s imperfections. Steadfastly, the Puritans of the Bay State focused on what they thought was important in their elected officials, and they returned Ted to office again and again.
No matter where I moved to, I felt that I always had a third Senator in Washington to represent me. A Senator I could claim as mine. One who embodied and espoused my ethnic New England liberalism. A Senator who would challenge a wishy-washy incumbent President of his own party. A Senator who would work cordially with the Devil to improve the human condition. A Senator who made me start so many explanations of my own behavior with, “I’m from Massachusetts, and I was taught …”
During the 47 years he served in the Senate, Ted has been a tough, flawed, human statesman. We are a much, much better country for having had Ted Kennedy prod us relentlessly to strengthen our embrace of our fellow human beings.