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Rest in Peace, Ted Kennedy

Your Humble Blogger had often called Edward Kennedy our liberal lion. I was moved and proud to have voted for him, back when he was my Senator. And it turns out that I miss him, now that he’s dead.

I mean, I knew he was dying. I’d been following the story about his succession, and the attempt to avoid leaving the seat vacant during the vote over the health finance reform package. And it’s not like I knew the man. As far as I know, I’ve been in the same room with him only twice. Once was in the Senate chamber, when I was up in the gallery and he looked like he was wearing one of those rubber Teddy Kennedy masks. And the other was in a corridor in Cambridge where I almost ran right into him. That’s it. I don’t think I ever even bothered to call his office; he was going to vote the way I wanted my Senator to vote, so why bother?

And, of course, I don’t know that I would have wanted to know the man personally. He was a mass of contradictions, as people are, but particularly in the way that children of wealth, privilege and opportunity can be when they have a tradition of public service. I don’t think I would have liked him when he was a young party animal, and I don’t think I would have liked him when he was a middle-aged drunk, and I don’t think he would have liked me when he was a sober old man. So there’s not a loss of personal connection, or the hope or possibility of personal connection.

So why am I feeling so bereft?

Perhaps, I think, it is because Teddy Kennedy was a great Senator, and not only a great Senator but a legislator after my own heart. A lefty who worked with conservatives, because the important thing is getting the government to govern. A man who believed that compromise was better than imposing one viewpoint, even his own. A legislator who, eventually, buckled down to the job of legislating as being public service of a high order, not a stepping stone to Executive office or any other task. The kind of public servant that I wish I could be. My abilities don’t stretch in that direction, really, and anyway I haven’t the kind of urge to public service that would take me from my comfortable family. But I wish I had that urge, and I wish I had those abilities, and I don’t.

I also find it very plausible that Edward Kennedy will be the last great American Senator. Anything could happen, from the collapse of the entire national structure in a civil war fought through floods and fire to a constitutional reawakening that eliminates the upper house altogether. Or, simply, it could just happen. Most Senators serve two or three terms, are good or bad or indifferent, and then that’s it. A handful stay in the Senate for longer, take seniority, gather staff and colleagues, and make a lasting impact over a long time. Of those handful, some are working for good, some for evil, and some for themselves.

It’s still a young country, despite being senior to most other national structures at this point. A couple of hundred years of the Senate. A hundred years of direct election, if that makes a difference (and I think it does). A handful of standouts. Clay, Calhoun, LaFollette, Webster, Taft, Norris, Vandenberg, Wagner, Hayden, Pell. Byrd. Kennedy. The historical verdict goes up and down on these people: it is not altogether flippant to ask about Ted Kennedy great Senator or the Greatest Senator? but that’s not something to try to answer today. I hope, though, we have other legislators as good, and maybe someday better. If we do, I believe that that legislator will have been inspired by (and warned by) Ted Kennedy’s example. Which is the legacy a man like that should have.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,