When a person of prominence dies, people of every walk of life will stop and reflect on the ups and downs of that person's life. The reflection is often a complicated one if that person is a politician. If that person is a politician with a very long history and family legacy.
When Senator Ted Kennedy died, my immediate reaction was to take note and then go on with my day. No fan of his or his family, for that matter, I have no personal tales to tell as to how any Kennedy changed my political philosophy or made an impression on my life as a young person. I wasn't even enamoured with the bogus Camelot story the press and Jacqueline Kennedy were obsessed on pushing.
Ted Kennedy was a far left liberal. Period. He spent his life in the U.S. Senate, running for office and winning as soon as he was of legal age to do so and remained there. He was a master of the legislative process, as time went on, and cannot be faulted for a lack of work ethic. He was prepared for whatever the debate of the day was and that was his job. We used to expect that of our elected officials - to be prepared and do the work they are hired to do. Now, somehow, it is to be lauded that he was a workhorse. It was his job.
As a politician, his life goal was to pursue legislation on health care and civil rights. As a liberal Democrat, he was out of sync with my political philosophy as a Republican. His work with the civil rights legislation, for example, was good and commendable. But, as a liberal, he went on to take it too far. Affirmative action and welfare legislation have both proven to be deterrents to the personal growth of generations. Big government has a place in hardship situations and as a safety net for those unable to care for themselves but not simply as a system of political favor to win votes from segments of the voting population.
Kennedy is said to have been able to work with both sides of the political aisle. To some degree that is true. He never veered from his liberal political philosophy but he knew one side cannot accomplish much alone. He was willing to work to get his legislative goals put through into law. He was able to find common ground with Senator Hatch, Senator McCain, even President George W. Bush. All for big government ideas.
He has the legacy now, though, for some bad moments in history. He is responsible for the complete deterioration of the demeanor of Supreme Court nomination hearings, for instance. He took it upon himself to personally bring down a good man - Robert Bork - solely for political reasons. It was wrong at the time and still is. Ted Kennedy was often a very small, nasty man.
"Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit in segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of million of citizens." He called Samuel Alito a bigot during his hearing before the Senate Judicial Committee as a Supreme Court nominee.
All of that was very wrong and destructive. And, Kennedy lied for personal gain.
In his personal life, he doesn't fare so well. He was the driver of a car that went over a bridge, at the age of 37, and the car went off the bridge into the water. A staffer, a 29 year old woman, was seated in the passenger side of the car and she drowned in that water as Kennedy swam off. He checked into a hotel and called his lawyer and his chief of staff. He waited hours before reporting the accident.
Also showing a lack of character, he was kicked out of Georgetown for cheating on a Spanish exam, he led police on a high speed chase in Palm Beach as a young man, and he divorced his first wife while asking for an annulment so that he could be married to his second wife in the eyes of the Catholic church. His second wife, a woman about 25 years his junior, is the divorced daughter of his long time friend, Edmund Reggie of Crowley, Louisiana. Reggie turned out to be a corrupt judge - convicted and sentenced. He was a big supported of JFK, back in the day.
Kennedy liked to play the Catholic card yet turned from pro-life to pro-choice in his career, for political expediency. He was a known playboy - as was the term of the day - and a heavy drinker. No choirboy, he.
So, he leaves a legacy of a long life in the U.S. Senate. He was a wealthy man who never held a "real" job and enjoyed the privileges of his life. He was true to his political convictions. He preferred domestic over foreign policy. His brother, JFK, brought the U.S. into the Vietnam war to fight for the freedom of South Vietnam yet Ted Kennedy was a strong anti-war voice after JFK's death. He has never spoken in favor of U.S. foreign policy if it involved military force or aid. He was often proven to be on the wrong side of history.
The irony is that liberalism is dying a slow death. Liberals now prefer the title "progressives". Ted Kennedy never did. Liberals fled from the title as the political philosophy continues to be rebuffed by American voters. European voters, too. European countries are moving to more conservative leadership and philosophy as they feel the effects of their own experiments in liberalism, in socialism. Even the Swedish health care system touted by Kennedy is within the framework of a recognition that socialism in Sweden has failed.
The election of Barack Obama to President of the United States would have been difficult without the early, strong support of Ted Kennedy. Yet, Obama is now realizing that we are still a center right nation. His massive power grab through government programs is not boding well with a watchful nation.