a lion has roared his last

My party and my nation have lost a legend.  Senator Ted Kennedy has passed away after a battle with brain cancer.

I am too young to know too much about the Kennedys.  I know they don’t mean to me what they do to so many Americans who loved their family and felt attached to them in ways I can only imagine are like my attachment to Barack Obama, the first politician to make me take the step from mere voter to activist.  And yet I know enough to know that this is a great loss.

They call him the Liberal Lion of the Senate, and his list of accomplishments is long and worthy of admiration.  Though given a name that gave him everything, he gave up nearly everyone he held dear in service to his country.  Though born to privilege, he dedicated his life to the causes of those without.  Though weighed down by a heavy and sad legacy, and sometimes faltering under its weight, he managed to always stand for social justice.  Though caricatured as some kind of left-wing extremist, he, more than self-described “maverick” John McCain, was known for working with the other side in order to accomplish his goals.

As GQ’s Michael Kelly wrote:

Even a partial listing of the major bills in whose passage Kennedy has played a part is impressive. Whether you admire them or not, these are the measures that transformed—mostly liberalized—America in our time: the first Immigration Reform Act; the Voting Rights Act and its extensions; the Freedom of Information Act; the Gun Control Act; the Campaign Financing Reform law; the Comprehensive Selective Service Reform Act; the Eighteen-Year-Old Vote law; the Occupational Safety and Health Act; the War on Cancer bills; the recodification of federal criminal laws; the Bilingual Education Act; the Fair Housing Acts; the Age Discrimination Act; the Airline and Trucking Deregulation bills; the Job Training Partnership Act; the South African sanctions; and the Grove City Civil Rights Restoration Act.

You can’t deny that this was a man who helped shape America for the better.

Someone on my university’s faculty listserv sent out this poem by Julie Aperin, and it moved me:

the senior senator from massachusetts

he didn’t fill the seat when he first occupied it, and truth told
maybe he didn’t even deserve to sit then

but over time, he grew into it

losses mounting, flanked by ghosts
drowning himself, over and over, in amber colored bottles

and when he couldn’t become president
became a man who really could be president

past imperfect
family legacy: public service first

day after day, year after year, decade after decade
vote after vote

ever haunted

and that summer day, when there should have been a wedding
instead
having to claim the body of his killed brother’s son,

Ted staggered with grief

but came back one more time to fill the seat that no one else has ever
deserved more

because over time
he rose

and became a man worth standing for,
the senior senator from massachusetts

He is a man who was perhaps unprepared, but rose to the occasion and became what was needed. President Obama echoed this in his initial statement, saying, “Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States senator of our time.” And regardless of whether we agree or disagree with everything that Senator Kennedy achieved, we can all agree that rising to the occasion, becoming what is needed, these are hallmarks of what it means to be a great American. We should all be inspired by Senator Kennedy’s service and sacrifice, and I hope upon hope that we can do him the honor of passing a health reform bill that he would be proud of.

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One thought on “a lion has roared his last

  1. Anyone who would denigrate what Edward Kennedy did in his time in the Senate, has no idea what it means to be an American. He did more to make people free and to keep them safe than anyone else, and it will be a long time before we can say that of anyone else.

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