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Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Thoughts on the Passing of an Icon

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massacusetts) passed away late last night, as you've probably heard by now.

My personal experience with Senator Edward Kennedy consists of having passed him in a corridor once or twice when I was a Senate intern in 1987. My political awareness of him spans all 33 years in which I have been an interested observer of our national politics. I am almost 45 years old, and this is the first day of my life during which Edward M. Kennedy has not been a United States Senator. He was an icon, a larger-than-life figure in our politics, and not just because of his surname, I think.

On one hand, I thought him to be on the wrong side of most major, divisive political issues in those years, and there was a ruthless side to his political acumen. For years on end, at least to me, his has been a dominant -- and, I confess, not beloved -- face of the opposition. On the other hand, I don't recall ever wondering where he stood on a major issue, once he had addressed it, or ever thinking that he was pretending to be something he was not; the value of this species of political integrity grows steadily in my view.

I don't fancy brain cancer as a means of shedding this mortal coil, but there is a happy side to this story, at least comparatively. He lived more or less a full life span, while two older brothers were assassinated at relatively young ages, both more than four decades ago. And, as President Obama noted this morning in his remarks, at least this way his family and friends were able to say goodbye, a blessing they were conspicuously denied with President John and Senator Robert, and with nephew John F. Kennedy, Jr., too, who died in a plane crash in 1999.

Do you mind much if I wax analytical for two moments?

First, some Utah Republicans enjoy publicly deriding Senator Orrin Hatch for his personal friendship with, kind words about, and occasional political collaboration with Senator Kennedy. It's as if they think a real conservative would have spat upon his liberal rival in the Senate elevator, slandered him into every microphone, and self-righteously refused to be caught in the same conversation or the same room with him. This week is a fine opportunity to exhibit gracious, mature, and civilized behavior toward both senators.

Second, it will be months before Massachusetts can replace Senator Kennedy, because state law apparently requires an election, instead of allowing the governor or legislature to appoint an interim replacement. This could have some interesting political effects in Washington. If his fellow Democrats catch themselves thinking, while Kennedy's seat remains empty, that there is such a thing as too much democracy, I'll be right here agreeing with them, even if the vacancy helps my party a little.

A final thought: I don't have to have shared his politics to write quite sincerely . . .

Rest in peace, Senator.

David Rodeback comments (8/26/09):

For what it's worth, here's an AP story on Senators Hatch and Kennedy, and health care legislation.

Katrina Olsen comments (8/26/09, via Facebook):

What a great read . . .

Alison Hutt comments (8/26/09, via Facebook):

Thoughtful, true. I think his strongest suit was his integrity, and that he was not afraid to take a stand on an issue. I am afraid that these days political figures are afraid to state their solid views for fear of alienating potential voters -- so they prefer a hands-off policy. Though I also did not agree with just about all of his politics, I have great respect for his commitment to them.

David Rodeback comments (8/27/09):

George Will excels here.

David Rodeback comments (8/28/09):

A gem today from Peggy Noonan: "The Reagans and the Kennedys. Meanwhile, Mona Charen draws the line short of praising Senator Kennedy's bipartisanship (as did I), and Paul Greenberg is resisting the trend toward panegyrics.

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