The honeymoon of new American liberalism begun by Obama’s presidential election seems to have died with Ted Kennedy. Reflections on the Lion of the Senate seem to come in three kinds: anecdote, admiration and politics-as-usual. For a sample of all three, check out the New York Times’ compilation.
But Ted Kennedy is no more dead than his brother John; no more dead than George Washington. People are more than flesh and blood: they have the ability to inspire. We keep past generations alive in our own image. Likewise, the American liberalist ideal will only die if we allow it to, and if we allow it to die, we will have killed it.
What seems generally agreed upon is that Kennedy was a tireless pioneer of America’s progressive social agenda, especially after his failed challenge against President Carter in 1980 refocused his ambition. Behind his passionate speeches for social issues such as education, civil rights and health care, Kennedy was a skilled negotiator who relied on the lessons he gleaned from history (he is the third-longest serving Senator in history) to persuade his fellow Senators to take up his cause.
Praise for Kennedy from the American left is a given, but that it also comes from the American right is considerable. John McCain has honored Kennedy as a skilled negotiator capable of uniting the two parties to pass legislation (the irony is that they are funded by the same lobbies; Kennedy commented on the rising influence of money in Washington in one of his last interviews).
While some, perhaps nobly, use Kennedy’s death to advance his healthcare agenda, others simply lament the loss of his negotiating skills as a sign that, given the state of the healthcare debate in America, The End is surely near. But who among them will issue the challenge to live up to Kennedy’s ability as an effective politician?
Who is the next Ted Kennedy of the American Congress?