Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward Moore Kennedy

We've known for several months that this day would arrive soon. So, I've given some thought to what, if anything, I would write on this occasion.

The easy way out would have been to write nothing. But to ignore an event of this magnitude seems inappropriate.

I could write a bland obituary, designed to offend no one. I could have filled it with true but vacuous statements of the "His death leaves a vacancy in the Senate" variety. But, no.

The truth is that I have nothing very positive to say about Ted Kennedy.

It's not as though I have a general disdain for everyone on the left. When Paul Wellstone died in 2002, I was sincerely saddened, and could, to an extent, join in the grief felt by my left-wing friends. Wellstone's candidacies for elective office all happened after I left Minnesota, and I would not have voted for him, had I still been there. But I had a brief acquaintanceship with him when I was a student in a class he taught at Carleton College in the '70s. I wouldn't call him much of a scholar, but he struck me as a nice man who genuinely cared about his students.

My closest encounter with Kennedy came during my time as an intern in Congress in 1977. During some down time, I went over to the Senate side, and walked into a committee mark-up session (i.e., a meeting to consider amendments to a pending bill, rather than to take testimony in a public hearing) of, if memory serves, the Judiciary Committee. At one point, the chairman (must have James Eastland) commented that the room was too crowded, and that every senator should retain only one staff member at the meeting. Being a House intern, I was no senator's staffer. But, I decided to stay unless/until I was directly challenged. I got a funny look from one or two people, but no one threw me out.

Kennedy was, as you might expect, overweight. (It was said that, when people noticed, two years later, that he had slimmed down a bit, they took that as confirmation of his intent to run for president in 1980.) The thin end of his necktie (the part in back that's supposed to stay hidden) was sticking out well below the broad end of the tie. Overall, his appearance was underwhelming. But no cameras were present, and he had no idea that the odd-man-out in the room would publish this account, more than three decades later.

Kennedy is winning praise from many, for his successful efforts to expand big government. Being for many years the chairman (and ranking minority member when the Republicans controlled the Senate) of the committee now known as Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, he was able to shepherd much legislation that, superficially at least, seemed to help those at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder.

But Kennedy's background, with his inherited wealth, left him unable to sufficiently appreciate the role that wealth creation (which is hindered by big government) can play in socio-economic mobility. He could hardly be expected to understand that, given that his idea of wealth creation was to draw down on his trust fund.

One sees some of that effect in the Bushes, as well. But they, unlike Kennedy, have experience in the business world.

I recently described Kennedy's family in this post. His death leaves only one surviving sibling, 81-year-old Jean Smith. Regardless of what anyone thinks of the family's politics, it's a reminder of the passage of time, for those of us old enough to remember when President John Kennedy and his siblings were the young glamour icons of the '60s.

Ted Kennedy was the only one of the four sons of Joseph and Rose Kennedy to die of natural causes. The best illustration of how exceptional Ted was among the brothers in terms of lifespan, is that his tenure in the Senate was 115 days longer than the entire lifespan of his longest-lived brother, John.

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