Just before I went
to sleep last night, I heard of the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and I
was both happy and sad.
I was happy, because I had been imagining the toll the brain cancer was taking on one of the liveliest and most active people in the Senate, and because finally, a Kennedy brother was able to die of old age, and in service to his country. Three others had died tragically young, and I was glad that one finally was able to live out a life and die of natural causes.
But I was sad, because I sense that an era is dying with him. I hope I'm wrong, but we are not the same country that he went to Washington to serve in early 1963. And we need to become that again.
Here was a guy who walked the walk, folks. At any time during
his 77 year life, he could have walked away and done what he wanted, and no one
would have blamed him for doing so, especially with two of his brothers gunned down in the line of duty, and through the countless tragedies the Kennedy family has faced over the years.
But he never did. He
gave his life for the country he loved, and how many politicians can you say
that about? Many of them have been there a long time, sure; but there are scant few who give it their all, and give passionately to the people who put them there. And he did so for a reason that seems to be all to rare in this cynical
He wanted to make
America better than it is.
Why have so many
people in government forgotten that, anyway? Just the other day, Senator Tom
Coburn, when confronted by a woman whose husband was being denied treatment by
an insurance system in which private corporations increasingly decide if you
live or die, answered with the platitude, "government is not the
answer." (I will be putting up video of this later on, along with many
others, but in the meantime go
here to watch this cold-hearted SOB at work.)
That answer should
disqualify Senator Coburn from even holding office.
If our society has a
serious problem, and we can solve it through government action, why wouldn't
we? Isn't that what the government is for, after all?
If our house catches
fire, we use the government to put that fire out, and to keep others from burning. In order to keep ourselves safe on the road, the government inspects all cars, so that the one that hits us by accident doesn't explode and kill us. We have the government set regulations and inspect our food, to make sure that food manufacturers and sellers don't poison us for profit. When someone commits a crime, we allow police (government) to go in, ask questions, and solve crimes,
because doing so lessens the chance that someone else will be a victim. Hell; the biggest potential
societal problem would be an attack and/or invasion from a foreign country, and we trust the
government with that, don't we?
See, what people
like Ted Kennedy (he gave me permission to call him "Ted" when I met
him as a mere lad of about 14) and frankly, most of the Kennedy clan,
understood was that the purpose of government is precisely to have a mechanism to solve
societal problems. We the people created it more than two centuries ago, with the express purpose of
solving problems that vex societies. Over the last 30 years or so, since the
neocons took over far too much of the government, we seem to have been collectively brainwashed into forgetting
that. People look to government as something "over there," that is
trying to encroach on our freedom, when the fact of the matter is, the main
purpose of using government to solve problems actually facilitates freedom.
What the Kennedys
stand for is the cause of making the United States of America the best nation
it can be. President John F Kennedy didn't propose sending us to the moon
because it would be profitable; he did so because he knew that, in achieving
some of our goals, we have to shoot for all of them. We have to look to the future that is likely to happen, and ask ourselves how we will do when we get there. And he was right to be so forward-thinking; the
technology that came out of the space program was invaluable for advancing
society; not just the computer technology you're using to read this, but also most of the
advanced medical equipment doctors use to diagnose and keep people alive had
their origins in the space program.
dedication that both Robert and Ted Kennedy showed to civil rights was all about making our country the best it could be. By pushing through a series
of laws that effectively ended institutional racism, the government effectively
forced cooperation between races and creeds, and set the stage for a remarkable
change in fortunes for minorities that has made our country far better than it
would have been otherwise. Despite the constant neocon attempts to throw numerous monkey
wrenches into the civil rights movement over the last 30 years or so, we have
still made enough progress to be able to elect Barack Obama president,
and we're far closer to the ideal of equal rights for all than we were a half century
What Ted Kennedy
understood was that government isn't there to create a barrier to people living
their lives in freedom and peace; it's there to remove the obstacles if it can,
and to give you a boost over those obstacles, when it is unable to remove them. Sen. Kennedy didn't champion
the Americans with Disabilities Act because he wanted to screw businessmen by
making them spend a lot of money on building alterations to
accommodate people with disabilities. He did it because government had an
obligation to remove obstacles for such people, and because people with
disabilities have a lot to contribute to our society.
The ideal that
Senator Kennedy tried to live up to in his public life is the ideal that all
people who serve their country should live up to, although few seem to these
days. The passion that he felt for this country and its people is the passion
that everyone should feel when they enter a life of public service. Whether you
agreed with him ideologically or not, it wasn't possible to deny his chops as a true progressive, and I don't mean that ideologically. He was happy with making incremental progress, but he was never
satisfied until everyone, young or old, rich or poor, black, white, yellow or
brown, were living the best life they could in the United States of America.
The best thing we
can do to preserve the Kennedy legacy is to put our country first. Whether
you're conservative or liberal, the country has to come first. I'm not talking
about jingoism and meaningless platitudes, in which you tell everyone how great
we are, and threaten to punch out anyone who says otherwise. You have to ask yourself how can we be a better society, and then work your ass off to make it happen. And I'm not talking about making this a richer society, but
a better one; the one that our Constitution promises. And we have to become politically stronger as a nation. Thirty years of neocon politics has turned us from bold visionaries into scared wimps. We have to once again become America the bold. Rather than asking ourselves if we can afford to be better,
start asking is we can afford NOT to be better.
I truly hope that Senator Edward M.
Kennedy wasn't simply a throwback to a bygone era. My wish for this country is that the last few decades, which were dominated by neocon negativity, were simply a blip on our country's history. After several decades of "can't do" politics, it's about time we started
"can do-ing" once again.
The Kennedy brothers
are together again today, if you believe that sort of thing, and they're looking upon us to see if we
will follow their lead. Let's try not to let them down.
Senator Edward M.
Kennedy was one of the great ones, but let's not miss him. Let's honor him, by
doing the right thing, as a country. It's the greatest gift we could give
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