Came home to find Ted Kennedy had died. The only Kennedy brother to make old bones, he probably had higher natural political people skills, than the other Kennedys. Press accounts major on Mary Jo Kopechne’s death, his youthful cheating in a Spanish exam, and his failure to make the presidency. Of course Chappaquidick marked his political career deeply, and it could be that fear of its repercussions stunted ambition to run for executive office thereafter. So the moral is that all politicians are flawed, and members of the Kennedy Camelot more flawed than some. But apart from the President that Kennedy never was, what about the Senator he was?
Kennedy was a New England Liberal from the age it was permissible to be such a thing and say so. His work in the Senate was his life’s work. He won every Senate race for which he entered, over 47 years. Not everybody in the UK understands the functions of the United States Senate, as an engine room of U.S. Lawmaking, especially on larger issues. Kennedy’s big achievements were as a man of the legislature not the executive.
The skill of a good legislator is not just to read the background papers, something Kennedy was famous for doing rather than not doing, but also to formulate bills clearly and strongly enough to stand up to scrutiny on their way through the process, rustling up support, preferably from as many as possible of the other side.
This is what Kennedy did superbly well, and the measure of his success is to be found in the particular legislation in which he had a strong hand — Deregulaton of airlines and truckers, abolition of the draft, voting at 18, the occupational safety and health administration, the Voting Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and a mass of detailed legislation on civil rights, health, education, and labour. He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at his death.
His private life seemed more Rabelaisian and indulgent than his public service, although he seemed largely to have gotten the act together after his second marriage. A man of the Vietnam generation, who came to object fundamentally to that war after various senate monitoring visits, he stood consistently against expansionist foreign policy, and also objected to the Iraq war — over-driven by the executive, under-respectful of the rights of the senate.
So that’s Ted Kennedy — Not a great orator, although his moving Eulogy at Bobby’s funeral is worthy, as is his “Dream shall never die” Democratic Convention speech, ending his presidential bid in 1980, with its sgnature quotation from Tennyson, and clear adumbration of his core social and political creed. Near the end of that speech he produced an image worthy of the global Kennedy brand (There’s a boulevard de Président Kennedy in Marrakech!). It doubtless inspired social progressives through the neocon wilderness of the next twenty years, as well as other rich New Englanders with yachts: “Often we sailed against the wind, but always we kept our rudder true...”