The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Last Liberal Lion

kennediesTed Kennedy is dead.  Expected, but somehow surprising nonetheless, as for my generation he’s just someone who’s always been there.  His life in the Senate was a long battle against onrushing twilight.  He may have been the last old, New Deal style liberal still in the Senate, and it was his duty to try and hold the line against what must have seemed to be an endless right wing surge of politicians who believed government’s role was raise up the already rich and powerful and to crush under the heel the weak, poor and sick.

Many will speak of his lifelong desire to see universal health care passed, and what a pity it was that it didn’t occur before his death, but I don’t think it was yet time.  The HELP bill, from his comitee, is nothing like his own bill, which was Medicare-for-all.  Such a bill cannot pass in this Senate, a Senate corrupted by money and steeped in conservative ideology which despises helping ordinary people.  Instead his legacy is simply that he fought the conservatives and their selfish, destructive ideology to the end of his life.

None of us want to spend our lives watching the ongoing destruction of everything we believe in, and the endless battles, so often occasioned by yet another retreat, must have been demoralizing.  Yet nonetheless he kept fighting.  If it is in defeat, rather than victory, that man is measured, then Kennedy measured up well, and always regrouped to fight another day and even won many victories.  His legacy is what remains of liberalism, which he fought for all his life.

The standard has fallen from his hands.  It will be up to others to pick it up and continue the fight he lived his life for.  If there is existence after life, I hope he will find it a time and place of renewal and hope.

Let the old lion rest, and let us hope there are young lions to take his place.

When one of your loved ones goes out of your life, you think of what he might have done for a few more years, and you wonder what you are going to do with the rest of yours.

Then one day, because there is a world to be lived in, you find yourself a part of it, trying to accomplish something–something he did not have time to do. And, perhaps, that is the reason for it all. I hope so.

-Joseph Kennedy, Ted Kennedy’s father

Update: Mona Brooks has a good photo here from last year’s convention, but what struck me more was her title “Camelot loses another knight”.  I would say it is more that Camelot’s last knight has died, long after Camelot itself fell.  Of course, Camelot always falls, which only makes it more worth fighting for.


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  1. I think it will be a long while before someone picks up that standard. Few of Ted’s colleagues have the courage or the compassion.

  2. This is very unfortunate, even as it was expected. I too do not see any obvious political heirs at the moment.

  3. Jim

    Political heir? Maybe Russ Feingold.

  4. Formerly T-Bear

    There be no more giants.

    This is the age of lowest common denominator,

    and faceless, nameless mediocrity.

    Such is the entropy of integrity.

  5. senecal

    Just to keep it fair and balanced, see Louis Proyect’s comment today (8/26) on Kennedy as the last “new Dealer”:

    He notes that in 1980 Kennedy boasted about his leadership in the deregulation of the airlines and trucking industries — Reaganite initiatives more than new Deal ones.

  6. “Of course, Camelot always falls, which only makes it more worth fighting for.”

    It had to be difficult for Ted to see Camelot fall to Richard Nixon, then Ronald Reagan, and ultimately George W. Bush. I’m sure he saw t rising in Barack Obama.

    Unfortunately, however, Reaganism (aka economic neoliberalism masquerading as political ideology) is not dead, and Obama is trapped in that paradigm and has trapped himself in it, too. I’m afraid that the US and world will have to wait until Reaganism plays itself out by self-destructing, taking the economy down, before Camelot will actually rise again.

    The new leaders, whose names are yet unknown, are just reaching maturity, and there will be a world of opportunity for rebuilding after Bernanke finishes destroying the dollar, leaving the US economy a smoking ruin. But they will have a new Mussolini to encounter and defeat first since extreme nationalism and corporate statism do not die easily, and it is “liberals” who will be charged with stabbing the country in the back.

    In short, same-o, same-o.

  7. Formerly T-Bear

    The two countries I have had the privilege to make my home, have both, in living memory, been torn asunder in horrendous civil wars. Both wars were fought on intransigent political beliefs to the death, both wars were ended over seventy years ago, and both countries, to this day, have a palpable wound to their body politic, a missing piece in their historic fabric that silence covers, a scar tissue still raw, that those two generations removed are still remembering the wrongs and transgressions inflicted on their families and the losses suffered. This is not the kind of living that will end well. Be very careful about self-fulfillment in your forecasts, in the advent the forsooth be granted, no telling the fate guaranteed by hubris. And you are doubtlessly right. Tonight though, is for remembrance of a passing, a true fin de siècle, an end of an era of giants.

  8. Cujo359 & Jim:
    I’d say Bernie Sanders. And maybe Sherrod Brown. Russ Feingold hasn’t made economic issues his pet cause. Sanders has.

  9. DWCG

    Sanders definitely. Possibly Brown and Franken – we can only hope. And there are moderate liberals like Boxer and Kerry. Feingold is more of a civil liberties liberal than a New Deal liberal. Funny to think that at one time concerns for civil liberties used to cross party lines.

    The fact that there aren’t more economic-populist liberals in the Senate is a statement to the failure of the progressive movement. Perhaps the health care reform failure will get some of the party activists to think in political terms more constructive than simply electing people.

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