[digg-reddit-me]Last night, Senator Ted Kennedy died.
His brothers had come to symbolize the height of the liberal era of the 1960s – the hope and promise of a forward-looking America, the almost-mythical consensus and unity that existed in the early 1960s and the most promising side of the radicalism that came later in that decade. Both were gunned down – promise unfulfilled.
But Ted Kennedy lived on – and came into his own – as a stalwart liberal voice against a growing right wing tide. He was seen as uncompromising, but he was already ready to deal with the opposition; he was a master of the Senate, its second longest serving member; he was passionate in his causes; but most importantly, he was a liberal. He remained a proud liberal all of his life, a public liberal; he continued to speak about the poor and the oppressed even after it was no longer fashionable; he preached about a moral society.
His most prominent years were as a voice of opposition – but last year, he seemed to finally inaugurate the coming progressive era, the swinging of the pendulum back that has long been a characteristic of American history. His pivotal endorsement of Barack Obama was one of the campaign’s turning points – and his conveyance of the mantle of the Kennedys onto Obama fraught with symbolic meaning. It was said by many older liberals that Barack Obama’s 2008 run was in a sense the completion of Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 campaign – as Obama finally inaugurated a pragmatically progressive era that Bobby Kennedy had been working towards, that Ted Kennedy had been working towards – and that finally, Obama had the courage and the vision and the luck to call forth.
When Teddy Kennedy ran for the presidency against the incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980, he ran as an unabashed liberal in a long, drawn-out campaign. He finally conceded and endorsed Carter with this tribute to the American people and to liberalism itself, which could as easily serve as his own eulogy:
And may it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved, and that have special meaning for me now:
“I am a part of all that I have met….
Tho much is taken, much abides….
That which we are, we are–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
…strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.