Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy

A year ago today, I wrote this about Ted Kennedy, who appeared at Obama's Denver coronation:

"I'll confess a soft spot for Ted Kennedy's speech. This has more to do with nostalgia than anything Kennedy said (the American flag is still on the moon? Color me proud). I supported Kennedy's challenge to Jimmy Carter's incumbency in 1980, my first presidential election. While certainly not perfect, Kennedy was easily preferable to Carter, and might have given Reagan more of a contest had he grabbed the nomination. His pseudo-concession speech at the '80 convention was powerful, a real up-your-ass to our underrated imperialist, whose hand Kennedy refused to shake. You don't see that kind of spirit anymore, whatever the political reality.

"The reaction shots of Joe Biden during Kennedy's brief bit only highlighted the difference between the two. Kennedy's time is over, as is the political age he helped to define. Biden is old enough to remember those days, but too avaricious to care about their demise. He hustled his way onto Obama's ticket, more than ready to embrace today's savage rules. Compared to Biden, Ted Kennedy was a socialist. Maybe that's why felt I sad watching Kennedy last night. Say goodbye to all that, liberals."

Kennedy's death makes me feel older and more wistful. I was turned on to his intra-party challenge to Jimmy Carter -- a ballsy if doomed effort -- by my Army roommate, a Black Spec. 4 from Chicago who schooled me on how African-Americans would fare better under a second President Kennedy as opposed to Carter or Ronald Reagan. Younger liberals don't know or remember how right-wing Carter became in 1979-80, while Kennedy promoted New Deal positions and whatever remained of 1960s political passion. The choice back then was clear, at least to my young mind.

Reactionaries loved rubbing Chappaquiddick in Kennedy's face. Whatever really happened that night when Kennedy's car went into the water and drowned Mary Jo Kopechne we'll never know. I suspect it wasn't an innocent ride home, given the Kennedy penchant for fucking around. But compared to the mass slaughter reactionaries have long supported and celebrated, from Nixon to Reagan to the Bush family, Kennedy's fatal failure was, to his and Kopechne's family, a private tragedy, not a war crime.

You can say a lot of negative things about Ted Kennedy that were true, but the man was as much of a progressive force as this rotten system allows. With his wealth, Kennedy could've easily been a Republican and pushed for more perks for the rich. Instead, he championed the powerless and left behind. Maybe he was sincere. Maybe not. But to me, Ted Kennedy was one of the few politicians who genuinely lifted my spirits, and dare I say it, hopes. Another part of my youth has died. RIP Senator Kennedy.

Here are the final minutes of Kennedy's 1980 speech at the Dem convention in Madison Square Garden. It's only audio, but it still rocks. Barack Obama wishes he possessed this kind of eloquence.

THEN AGAIN: Friend Louis Proyect offers a corrective to my youthful idealism. As well he should.