When you’re an Irish Catholic growing up in New England in the 1960’s and 1970’s, you’re going to have a certain affinity with the huge Kennedy clan. And that’s true even if you don’t fully embrace the politics.
While I was too young to remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I do remember the collection of books and magazine tributes my mother kept. Basically, a ton of them. Then Bobby Kennedy was taken in 1968, and the aura and the weight of the tragedy became part of the fabric.
Ted Kennedy, the youngest and at often times very irresponsible, became the one who would fully carry the mantle. I’d say that he carried it in a manner worthy of the whole legacy of the family, albeit with a couple of huge scars that many conveniently forgot.
My first memories of him as the lead story are tied into Chappaquiddick. I still don’t – no one knows – what happened that horrible night. But I do say that Ted Kennedy should be judged by that as he should be judged by the rest of his life.
And from what I’m reading that the rest of his life – or at least his work as a Senator is beyond impressive. I say that as someone who would often disagree with his politics. In a time of extreme partisanship, he was able to work with members of the other party, Orrin Hatch and John McCain, to name two, to fashion legislation that both maintain his principles and get passed.
Today we’ve got too many hard left and hard right types that seem to want to not give in. That doesn’t mean that they’re sticking to principle; it means they’d rather score political points to screw the oppositon.
What’s struck me from all the accolades is that so many of people are coming out with stories of Kennedy’s kindness. Phone calls to people who have a sick relative. Adding a personal touch to the semantics of daily life.
So, yes, Ted Kennedy is a symbol of a bygone era. An era where bipartisanship was used to produce a better government and a better American life. And it’s that type of service that served as the foundation for my own idealism, ironically forged in part by reading and looking at those books and magazines my mother collected so long ago. They made me proud to be an American (and an Irish Catholic to boot!).
RIP, Ted Kennedy, and thank you for your service to our country.