Posted on August 26, 2009
My dad voted against Jack Kennedy when he ran for President. He told me later (I wasn’t born yet) that Nixon actually won the famous televised debate, if you read the transcript or listened to it on the radio, and that debate helped him make his decision.
But growing up in an Irish Catholic household, like I did, you couldn’t help but be inspired by the Kennedy family. My mother once showed me a book about President Kennedy, when I was very young, as if to say that one of our own got to the top. So, even though my father voted against Jack, I still liked the idea of the Kennedys.
When I moved to Washington in 1989, it was very fashionable for Republicans to hate Ted Kennedy. He was a limousine liberal, an out of control drunk, and a symbol of an out of control federal government. Conservatives loved to rail on Kennedy, making jokes about Chappaquiddick. But in the back of my mind, while I could always see the flaws in the Kennedy family, I also always appreciated them too. They were American royalty and they were Irish Catholic and that was pretty cool.
While I never had a chance to actually shake Ted Kennedy’s hand when I worked on the Hill, I had plenty of chances to be in meetings and private functions to see how Kennedy operated. What Kennedy always brought into the room was a great sense of humor. You could almost see the collective crowd smile in unison as soon as he would speak. It was Irish humor, so it could be biting. But he was always very funny,
It goes without saying that Kennedy had great courage. When you see both of your brothers get killed just because of the family name, it takes courage just to walk out the door in the morning. But Kennedy had great political courage, too. And political courage is something that is now missing in the Congress.
On the big issues over the last decade, Kennedy played an indispensable role in getting things done. Neither No Child Left Behind nor the Medicare Prescription Drug bill would have happened without Kennedy’s leadership, and in both instances he took on his own left wing.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Kennedy came from the left-wing of his party, and often his prescriptions for solving the nation’s problems were simply wrong. He was a limousine liberal who favored big-government solutions that don’t work in the real world.
I disagreed with Kennedy on many things, but I appreciated his contribution to America and his role in making our democracy work. He will be missed.