The Last Lion
The news this week about Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts having an almost certainly terminal form of brain cancer is one more grim reminder of what most of us studiously attempt to avoid: our own mortality.
Our shared kinship with the Kennedy clan has been a helpful reminder that the meek and the powerful are all subject to the laws of nature.
Ted Kennedy is one of those last remaining threads to the days of Camelot. He was a dashing young man serving his first year in the Senate when his brother died in Dallas.
Less than five years later ,we mourned with him again ,when his brother, Bobby, died in Los Angeles.
As a teenager, I listened in silence as Ted eulogized his brother Bobby at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral ,just a few short miles from where I sat. In a voice that shook with emotion ,Teddy borrowed the words of George Bernard Shaw and said, “Some men see things that are and ask why. He dreamt of things that never were, and asked why not.”
I was transfixed not only by the words and their meaning, but with the force with which Ted Kennedy spoke those words. Millions shared a sense of loss wondering again about what future a second Kennedy presidency might have created. All that speculation was just an exercise in academic curiosity now.
With the passage of forty years, we now come to a time when Ted Kennedy has begun his final journey. Not cutdown in the prime of his life like his brothers, but having lived a much fuller life, most of that in service to his beloved Massachussetts. Through the years he has spoken eloquently of the need for social justice in America. Even those who rarely agreed with his politics came to admire his tenacity of purpose. Something born, I suppose, of his parents, Joseph and Rose Kennedy.
Certainly there was always an unpleasant side to the Kennedy saga. From the roughhouse machine politics of Papa Joe, to the sometimes questionable morals of all three of the surviving Kennedy boys, John, Bobby, and Ted. Chappaquiddick will remain a dark mark on Ted Kennedy’s biography.
But in times of public despair, all three of the Kennedy brothers gave us hope. JFK’s bold embrace of vigor and youth lifted the energy of an entire nation. RFK’s ability to reach down to the pit of a nation’s pain over the assassination of Martin Luther King, or the loss of so many American lives in Vietnam, resonated with millions. And Ted Kennedy, at times the only liberal left standing, who persistently barked his questions on the floor of the Senate, was steadfast in his belief that government at its best served all of its people. Whenever his large face would redden, his oversized frame would shake and his voice would boom, you knew that the last of the Kennedy men was coming out swinging one more time.
We’re all subject to the laws of nature. Leaders come and go. Three brothers like the Kennedys have no equals in the history of American politics.
It’s not likely that will change anytime soon.
SMW Money Editor