UPDATED (after the jump)
to be perfectly frank, i’ve never thought much about ted kennedy. oh sure, i know he was a kennedy, and a drunk, and that a woman died while he was driving drunk. but i knew something about his legislative record (which, according to the interwebs, was pretty good). but in reading gawker’s “assessment” of kennedy, i started to think that kennedy might, in fact, be a perfect example of how the right and the left want different things from their elected representatives.
Edward Kennedy, the last surviving son of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, was the third-longest serving US Senator of all time. He was a drunken degenerate. And he might’ve been the best argument for the US Senate ever elected.
The ’70s? … he divorced his wife, hit the bottle hard, and began fucking around again even more recklessly than before. But he was the very definition of a functional alcoholic, able to achieve bipartisan compromises on important health care legislation by day and then fuck a lobbyist on the floor of a restaurant by night. He destroyed Robert Bork’s chance at being on the Supreme Court, and paparazzi snapped him fucking a girl on his boat.
His most important legacy is the legislation he was instrumental in passing. In the end, Ted Kennedy ended up a much more influential figure in American history than his more ambitious, more driven, probably smarter brothers. … Sadly, he didn’t live to see his longtime dream of national health insurance actually come to fruition. The man’s many, well-documented flaws aside, he was on the right side of history, most of the time, and he did more to actually make America a better place than 90% of the careerists and charlatans who pass through the United States Senate.
And as the undemocratic institution of the Senate (and this celebration of the life of a man who won his seat due to family connections and held on to it for almost fifty years proves the anti-democratic nature of that body) continues to destroy whatever hope this nation has of governing itself responsibly, we’ll miss a man who more often than most tried to show that politics can be about tangibly helping real people.
here’s a man who was, by all accounts–even from his supporters–a tremendous fuck up, a drunk, a womanizer. and yet…he still fucking accomplished things. he pushed for universal health care for 40 years. kennedy was a man who had status, wealth, and power via his family. in some ways, his past and W’s are very similar. but look how differently their stories ended.
in light of all the recent (and not-so-recent) republican sex scandals, i think this bears examination. i’m sure this has been said before (certainly by me), but part of what liberals find so delightfully schadenfreude-licious about republican sex scandals is how much hypocrisy it exposes. these people make morality a central tenant of their politics, making wild claims against their heathen liberal opponents. but then they, too, turn out to be humans with human failings. i think that, being a liberal, it’s easier to just say “well, whatever; he’s still getting shit done.”
obviously, this argument only goes so far. i don’t know that a politician without kennedy’s connections could have weathered the scandals he did. and, barney frank aside (what is it with MA politicians, anyway?), the appearance of mainstream family values is still critical to political success, even on the left. and the left certainly has its share of hypocritical shit bags who do nothing at all to further the best interests of their constituents. but still, i think kennedy’s longevity in the face of very bad, very public failings says something about what we look for in our politicians.