The Distinguished Gentleman from Massachusetts

Up until today, when I watched the clip of Edward M. Kennedy’s speech to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, I hadn’t thought of posting anything about his passing. What else could I say or add? The New York Times has given the most thorough and elegant appraisal of his life that will probably be read in any newspaper anywhere. Whatever I know about Ted Kennedy I learned from newspapers and history books, not from personal experience. Then I paused at the thought, that his work didn’t touch my life personally. This guy has a tremendous body of work in the U.S. Senate, he championed civil rights and kept pressing forward for legislation that would make universal health care possible in the United States. (Despite well-publicized accounts of gun-toting, unruly rabbles at various town hall meetings, I believe that most Americans would be in favor of reasonably administered universal health care.)

He kept the late President Ronald Reagan from weakening the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which originally gave blacks the right to vote and outlawed hurdles that would stop others from exercising that right. So from civil rights to other provisions we take for granted, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, this man has had a tremendous influence on us all. I don’t think the Kennedy legacy is a myth at all. For all the obvious advantages that their connections gave them in American society, they used their influence to try to make people’s lives better. It says a lot about an individual when he doesn’t rest on his family’s wealth and just hang out, but goes into Washington politics for goodness sake, and racks up accomplishments that improves people’s lives. It speaks to empathy and compassion, and the grit and will to stick to the work until you have something good to show for it.

Like many other great men, his legacy is mixed. I’m sure the parents and family of Mary Jo Kopechne, a former teacher, never got the closure they needed after her death. His reputation suffered permanently for that, and considering the fact that an innocent life was lost under shady circumstances, well, who can blame the doubters. But I don’t think he was an evil, selfish murderer. He has probably been sorry for that episode right up until he died, and that’s an awful burden.

I hear that President Barack Obama will give the eulogy at his funeral. What an honor. And it’s fitting too, that President Obama would be chosen to say goodbye, on behalf of all of us, whose lives are better in more ways than we realize because of Senator Kennedy’s work.

Anyway, here is a clip of Senator Kennedy’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August 2008. It is inspiring for many reasons. This man was battling brain cancer, but like he said in the opening, nothing would keep him away on that special night. And although I respect Republicans and give them due credit for their roles in making America (in some ways) the envy of the world, only the Democrats, in my opinion, are sincere in empathizing with people, struggling along with them, and helping them rise to reach their potential and lead better lives. From my lone perspective—and believe me, I read extensively from a wide variety of pundits, politicians and preachers—only the Democrats embrace all the ideals of justice, fairness and inclusiveness for everyone. Without hesitation.

I grew up listening to both Republican and Democratic speeches. And while the Republicans always have a way of making me feel excluded, the Democrats make me choke up every time. Over passages like this, from Senator Kennedy:

We are told that Barack Obama believes too much in an America of high principle and bold endeavor. But when John Kennedy thought of going to the moon, he didn’t say “It’s too far to get there. We shouldn’t even try.” Our people answered his call, and rose to the challenge. And today an American flag still marks the surface of the moon. Yes, we are all Americans. This is what we do. We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it, and we can do it again.