Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Even In Death, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy Remains A Deeply Polarizing Figure On America's Political Landscape, But Orrin Hatch Pays Tribute Nonetheless
It wasn't completely unexpected. U.S. Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy finally lost his battle with brain cancer and passed on at the age of 77 late on Tuesday August 25th, 2009. Ironically, his death comes a mere two weeks after the departure of one of his sisters, Eunice Kennedy. National stories published by CNN, ABC News, the Washington Times, and a treacly puff piece in the Boston Globe (which is to be expected). A New York Times Service article was picked up by the Deseret News.
Kennedy had been in declining health since he suffered a seizure in May 2008 at his home in Hyannis Port, MA. His doctors determined the cause had been a malignant glioma, a brain tumor that often carries a grim prognosis. In June, he underwent brain surgery at the Duke University Medical Center, where doctors declared the procedure successful without specifying what that meant for Kennedy's future.
Kennedy was the last surviving brother of a generation of Kennedys that dominated American politics in the 1960s and that came to embody glamour, political idealism and untimely death. The Kennedy mystique — some call it the Kennedy myth — has held the imagination of the world for decades and came to rest on the sometimes too-narrow shoulders of the brother known as Teddy. But that "mystique" proved to be a double-edged sword at times; although the elite and the star-struck remained impressed by the Kennedy mystique, much of Main Street America got burned out on it. When the major networks virtually abandoned all regular news programming for two days to provide saturation coverage of the plane crash of John F. Kennedy Jr. a few years ago, there was strong public backlash.
Nonetheless, the elite are paying their respects to Kennedy. CNN posted numerous tributes from those within America's political elite, including this reaction by Senator Orrin Hatch:
"Today America lost a great elder statesman, a committed public servant, and leader of the Senate. And today I lost a treasured friend. Ted Kennedy was an iconic, larger than life United States senator whose influence cannot be overstated. Many have come before, and many will come after, but Ted Kennedy's name will always be remembered as someone who lived and breathed the United States Senate and the work completed within its chamber." Hatch's full statement is posted on the WCVB Channel 5 Boston website.
Orrin Hatch had adopted Ted Kennedy as a personal moral reclamation project. Perhaps he had messianic visions of leading Kennedy through the doors of an LDS temple and into a baptismal font. Hatch and Kennedy became friends and known as the "odd couple" of the Senate. But many conservatives believe Kennedy actually took advantage of Hatch's trusting nature and manipulated him.
Senator Bob Bennett also weighed in: "On those occasions when I had the opportunity to work with him on a particular issue, I grew to appreciate the depth of his commitment to his country and his principles. It's clear to all that the Senate has lost an icon whose lifetime of service will be long remembered."
But Hatch's sentiment towards Ted Kennedy is hardly universal. Like Joseph Smith and Sarah Palin, Ted Kennedy falls into the category of persons whose name will be had either for good or for evil; there are very few neutrals. On the neocon-dominated Free Republic forum, many express anger about Ted Kennedy's legislative record as well as some of his personal foibles. Some even refer to Kennedy as a "traitor".
But that's just a mere warmup to what you will read on the more ultraconservative forums. At Stormfront and the Vanguard News Network Forum, it was party time. At least nine different Stormfront threads immediately sprouted, eventually consolidated into just two threads; you can read them for yourself:
-- Ted Kennedy Has Died
-- An Honest Summary of Ted Kennedy's Disgraceful Life
Not to be outdone, the Vanguard News Network Forum started a thread entitled "Ted Kennedy Dead [No Troll]". And on The Phora, a thread entitled "Ted Kennedy Dead" was started.
One of Ted Kennedy's biggest political miscalculations was his support of the Hart-Celler Immigration Bill, entitled "The Immigration and Naturalization Services Act of 1965 (INSA)". This act, a major part of the Great Society legislation promulgated by the Democratic Party, dismantled previous immigration legislation and penalized future European immigrants in favor of Third-World immigrants. During the Senate floor debate, Kennedy promised, "First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration remains substantially the same ... . Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset ... Contrary to the charges in some quarters, [the bill] will not inundate America with immigrants from any one country or area ... The bill will not flood our cities with immigrants. It will not upset the ethnic mix of our society. It will not relax the standards of admission. It will not cause Americans workers to lose their jobs ...."
Kennedy proved wrong on all counts, and now immigration has become the third rail of American politics.
But what really soured me on Ted Kennedy early in life was Chappaquiddick. According to most accounts, Kennedy ran off the road and splashed into the drink with the car ending up in Poucha Pond upside down. Kennedy got himself out, but was disoriented partially because of stress, and partially because he was blitzed. Mary Jo Kopechne was still in the car and left out in the shuffle. Here's a diagram showing her situation:
Note how Kopechne had an air pocket towards the bottom of the car (facing the surface of the pond). Imagine how she felt as the water slowly rose towards her, and she had no way to escape. If Ted Kennedy had called for rescue early, Mary Jo could have been saved. The Kennedy family swept the whole thing under the rug.
So yes, I thought Ted Kennedy was a slug. But he wasn't exactly an axe murderer; he was a U.S. Senator who remained true to his liberal ideals, even during the 1980s when liberals seemingly were becoming an endangered species. He was consistent. And as for his personal foibles, that's between him and our Heavenly Father now. So while I don't like the guy, I'm not going to rejoice over his death. In civil society, we normally allow a decent interval for people to mourn. Cheering the demise of Ted Kennedy seems a bit tacky.