Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward Kennedy, 1932-2009

When an assassin's bullet felled President John F. Kennedy, we were left to mourn -- and to wonder whether the U.S. would have waged the futile, disastrous Vietnam War had he lived.

When an assassin's bullet felled Senator Robert F. Kennedy, we were left to mourn -- and to contemplate the "what if's" of history, without Watergate, without Kent State, without the many other crimes and malfeasances of the Nixon Administration -- what would have been.

Now a brain tumor has claimed Senator Edward Kennedy's life after a long and glorious career, right at that historical moment when his voice was so desperately needed in the campaign to secure universal health care for all Americans.

No doubt, President Obama will invoke Senator Kennedy's legacy in the struggle for health care, like President Johnson used the memory of his slain predecessor to secure passage of the Civil Rights Act. Whether Obama will be as successful as LBJ remains to be seen.

Ted Kennedy's political career is a tribute to those who believe in politics as the art of the possible, and believe that political compromise and coalition building are not synonymous with cowardice and preemptive surrender -- the tactical philosophy that has unfortunately guided much of the Democratic Party for the last twenty years or more. A handful of Republican leaders -- John McCain and Orrin Hatch, most notably -- whom I might disagree with passionately on most issues, but who nonetheless clearly have dedicated their political lives to working on behalf of a broader society and not merely their partisan base, they understand what we have lost, and are grieving not only for Sen. Kennedy and his family, but what we have lost as a nation.

As I sat down to write this, the café's piped music channel started to play Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land." Guthrie's alternative national anthem for the have-nots and the dispossessed, especially the seldom-played latter verses, seems like a fitting song to play in memory of the fallen lion of the U.S. Senate.

In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Thank you, Senator Kennedy, for fighting to keep this land a land for you and me.

Rest in Peace, Senator Kennedy.