The Lion Of the Senate Sleeps

But his Cause Lives On! 

A Champion Of the People!

A Champion Of the People!

We May Never see his Like again

 The tallest tree in our political forest Edward Kennedy, who was approaching 50 years of service in the US Senate, has fallen. The last of four remarkable brothers, Teddy Kennedy may well be the most consequential of them all.  No doubt historians will argue over this claim.  Some will point out that although his brother Jack was cut down by an assassin’s bullet during the early stages of his presidency, his decisions prevented a nuclear war with Soviet Russia which would have destroyed the earth.

Taken at face value that’s kind of hard to beat, however other historians will surely point out that it was Jack Kennedy’s folly in trying to overthrow the Cuban Revolution that created the crisis in the first place.  For if a revolution was ever justified anywhere it was the right thing for Cuba.  And although his brother Bobby became an impassioned voice of the poor oppressed and powerless, it was a late in life conversion.

When I met him in the early sixties he was a cold fish; the quintessential arrogant, clueless, over-privileged white boy!  However the Assassination of his big brother, cut down when he was on top of the world, humbled Bobby and opened him up to the message of peace and love emanating from the Civil Rights movement and the counter-cultural movement for peace and justice inspired by it.  But he too was assassinated before he could fulfill his promise.

As the youngest of the Kennedy men Teddy – who showed great courage in embracing a profession that had caused the untimely death of his two older brothers –  was baptized in progressive politics at an early age and hit the track running.  And he never stopped running: Running for peace; running for racial justice; running for economic equity; running for the rights of all Americans to first class health care when they were sick!

To put it succinctly, Teddy, like Martin Luther King, spent his entire adult life trying to heed the charge of Jesus Christ to feed the hungry, heal the sick and pursue peace among all men without wearing his religion on his sleeves.  By the example of his life, deeds not mere words, walking the walk not just talking the talk, he has exposed the blasphemy that the hypocrites on the Christian Right are attempting to pass off as the theology of Christ.  And millions of human lives at home and abroad were enriched by his good works.

As with all human beings Teddy, like Martin, had his imperfections; which should surprise no one since only God can be perfect.  But his failings were also the failings of the greatest men in the bible: David, Samson and Solomon.  They all yielded to temptations of the flesh.  Yet unlike our last three Republican Presidents his political morality is unblemished. He didn’t abuse his power and try to subvert the constitution like Nixon; nor support arming murderous thugs attempting to prevent radical reforms in South America in spite of a congressional ban, or exploit white racism in the American south, like Ronnie Reagan!  Furthermore, he vociferously opposed illegal wars of choice, and assaulting the rights of the American people through massive spying, like George II did!

It is a supreme irony that Teddy should dance and join the ancestors in “that mysterious realm where each shall take his chamber in the silent halls of death” as William Cullen Bryant put it in his epic poem Thanatopsis, just when his vote could make the difference in passing the health care legislation that was the great obsession of his legislative life. While it is impossible to sum up so consequential a life in single commentary, perhaps Senator John McCain, a Republican adversity, put it best: “Ted Kennedy was a man who consistently put service to the country above his self interests.”

And from what we are hearing about his last days, the senator had heeded the poets advice to “So live that when they summons come/ Thou go not like the quarry slave and night/ scourged to his dungeon/ but sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust/ approach thy grave like the one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him/ and lies down to pleasant dreams.

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

August 25, 2009

 

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