(New York-NY) Ted Kennedy, the Lion of the Senate or given his girth more like the Whale, died this week. The 40-year Senator eulogized by politicians while Twitter tweets “Mary Jo Kopechne is probably giving Ted an earful right now as he makes his descent into purgatory for a LONG time.” What does it mean, not for the Kennedy legacy but for me? Hey, I never claimed to be a saint or even Irish Catholic.
I was 11 when John “Jack” Kennedy was assassinated. Old enough to remember it, but not old enough to have a formulated opinion removed from my parents, who being left leaning Jews coming out of the New Deal shadow were to put it mildly upset. But as I came of age and consciousness combined with the assassination of Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, I followed the thinking of my generation: My parents got JFK; my older sister got RFK, and I was left with the “genetic sludge” to borrow a line from “Twins”, Edward “Ted” Kennedy. Even the nickname seemed forced.
My relationship with Ted Kennedy was ambivalent. Just when he seemed to be getting it right invariably he screwed it up. Teed-up for the Presidency by the spirit of his slain brothers, he gets drunk, drives a car off of a bridge, and lets a woman drown. Profiles in courage, hardly. After Watergate, the Democratic party should have had a second term lock with Jimmy Carter, but Ted Kennedy has to challenge him, and he has just enough political clout to get Reagan elected.
But then reluctantly I have to admit he did reach across the aisle successfully. Working with Orrin Hatch on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIPO), George H.W. Bush on the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act. Can you tell I’m kvelling? And what about George W. Bush and “No Child Left Behind” and the lesser known “No Drink Left Behind”? Yes, there’s my ambivalence again.
Ted Kennedy did far more in the political world than his brothers by the simple fact that he lived longer. Still, it’s a hallow achievement, because a sibling can never compete with the long shadow of potential cast by another sibling’s life tragically cut short. I still have an inferiority complex from survival guilt over the family dog who could howl “The Impossible Dream” much to my father’s delight but whom we had to give away because of my allergies and my mother’s insistence. I can only imagine what Ted Kennedy went through.
Now, it makes sense to me. I see myself, and maybe we of a certain age see ourselves, in Ted Kennedy, the survivors who can never live up to the potential of those who simply did not survive. That’s why while I was quick to defend Ted Kennedy I also never passed up a good joke at his expense. In the end, my deepest fear was that we were all “genetic sludge”. The best and the brightest were behind us, before us. And those of us left here had to muddle through being graded on a curve waiting for happy hour.
So what does Ted Kennedy’s legacy mean to me? To quote from one of my boychik’s Billy Joel’s songs
“Angry Young Man”, “I found that just surviving was a noble fight.” And that’s what Ted Kennedy did. He survived. RIP Ted. I’ll be drinking to you tonight. It’s a good a reason as any.