What to say about the passing of Ted Kennedy. First, that it has saddened me more than I might have expected. Michael Tomasky alludes to why this might be: “There are and will be more Kennedys, but the Kennedy era is over now. Teddy was imperfect enough that some Americans will say amen to that. Let them. The rest of us know what a dramatically better place this country is because of him.” That imperfection was not, as some might argue, part of Kennedy’s charm: it repulsed the types of people most likely to support his politics. In the best piece I’ve read since Kennedy’s death, however, Joyce Carol Oates made a passionate argument for the redemptive power of that politics.
There may be no an advocate of the liberal cause as able as Edward Kennedy now left in the USA. That alone is sad. The extent of Kennedy’s legacy is broad and deep, and yet still more needs to be done, will always – as he himself once said – need to be done. The Daily Telegraph’s obituary, as you might expect, was more sceptical of Kennedy than most; in a sense, that’s right and proper, given Kennedy’s manifold flaws. Yet the sadness that those of us on the left feel – the sadness of those of us who benefitted directly (often in the unlikeliest of quarters) from his work, or were simply inspired by it – has less to do with all those ugly personal characteristics which cannot fail to reduce a man’s stature, and more to do with the way in which so privately selfish a man devoted his political life to others less fortunate.
You don’t have to be able to love Ted Kennedy to be sad he’s gone. You just have to love the ideals he fought for.