Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Lion in August

I woke, this morning, to the news of Senator Edward M. Kennedy's death, and in my own, small way, take this time to celebrate what he meant to this country and to the ideals of equality to which he dedicated his life.

And I urge everyone to do the same--his is a story of incremental success and unwavering forward motion, sometimes by inches. His is the kind of voice that even in death will continue to drown out the nihilist extremists who seek to sabotage universal health care for Americans, something that we must enact. We must.
The Liberal Lion. I love that characterization. Lions, it should be said, are cool. Lions glide among the gazelles, their mantle of leadership obvious and silent. They are both impassive and terrible, swift and serene. And, not for nothing, but the women do the hunting, which is always sexy. Behind every good king of beasts is a hardworking woman. I will not, perhaps, be lionized by my liberal female readers for that last line, but I cannot help myself.

And what is the Conservative counterpart? The Conservative Cougar? The Conservative Crustacean? The Conservative Critter? George Bush? Ron Paul? Senator Kennedy counted Orrin Hatch as a friend across the aisle--perhaps it's him.

Senator Kennedy was the Anti-Bush (George, Jr.), although cut from very similar cloth. Both from New England families of privilege and power; both Ivy-League students of questionable motivation; both with cush assignments in the military; both heavy drinkers; George, Jr. took a series of executive posts and found God, while Ted came of age in the Senate and found humility, taking a deferential stance from the first day. The winds of tragedy buffeted him from that moment forward--the assassinations of both older brothers (their eldest brother had already been killed in action during a WWII bombing raid); a near-fatal plane crash that confined him to hospital immobilization for six months; the indefensible beavior on the alcohol-soaked island of Chappaquiddick; cancer for his 12-year-old son, who survived but at the cost of one of his legs, below the knee; the premature deaths of three Kennedy nephews, part of the clan of 13 children of JFK and RFK to whom Teddy became surrogate father. It's a lot to sail against, those winds, but the lesson that Teddy learned was, again, the value of imcremental progress. Support for the Civil Rights Act; opposition to the Vietnam War and nearly every military engagement since; the Americans with Disabilities Act; Voting Rights; partnering with President Bush on No Child Left Behind; authorship of a purported 2500 pieces of legislation, of which some 300 were signed into the law of This Great Land. You should check it out.

George, Jr. and Edward were once both indifferent playboys with unwanted power and responsibilities thrust upon their at-times narrow shoulders. Edward built a career of achievement and coalitions--perhaps always atoning for that awful night at the bridge in the summer of 1969--that reasonable people in this country celebrate today. In the Senate, he retained a back-row seat, refusing to move forward in the chamber, as is the custom, preferring to assail his colleagues's backs with the booming voice of righteousness. In his last weeks and days, it was reported that the Senator could be seen sailing against the wind still, in the waters around the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis.

George, Jr..... still has time to turn his face into the wind and to atone for his mistakes and who they affected. What will he do with that time? What will any of us do?