Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Good bye to a lot more than Teddy

This news, only a little earlier than anticipated, still shocks me and greatly saddens me.

Now and then I start to write posts in which I would grapple with and, mostly for my own sake, try to account for my own transformation from a rather uninformed conservative youth to a self identified liberal. I usually gave up and never posted.

Oh shit, I am actually sobbing as I read the obits.

But I can't say why I will miss Ted Kennedy without describing how my attitude toward his politics and his political skills changed over the years.

When I first moved to Massachusetts in the early 70's, fresh from Nevada and straight from a home of staunch paleolithic republican sentiments, my typical reactions to Kennedy's causes such as health care were un-researched quips. "Oh sure," I would think, "a guy that has never lacked a massive family trust fund thinks I should pay more taxes so everyone can go see a doctor when he wants". I am now in a position to set up our own family trust fund and I can't always see a doctor Its so much easier to be heartless when your ignorance enforces a distance from the realities of hardships and unjust distribution of rewards that Kennedy mustered us to battle. Find any wingnut who still vilifies Kennedy and I will show you an ignoramus.

In 1976, I worked for a consulting firm and had to travel to Washington DC just to be an extra in a show of resumes for a potential customer. On one shuttle flight down there, it happened that the the Senator had the seat next to me. He rode coach without any ceremony at all, just another passenger not hinting any expectation of deference. I was not even positive it was him when he first sat down. I did not speak to him. He was paying a lot of attention to a copy of NY Times Magazine with a cover story on some political upstart who was then the governor of Georgia. It was a crowded field that year.

It was the Viet Nam war that still repelled me from Republicans but Carter has always conjured up hope and decency and I voted for him in hope. Kennedy seemed to me at that time a man beaten by his own bad luck but he resolutely soldiered on. His wary dance with corporate powers while he introduced bill after bill to make life livable for what we used to call the working class simply never let up. He had the big ideas if not the charisma to turn our political hearts. But it takes so much more work and organization and granite-willed persistence to redirect a nation that in its private dreams sees itself as potentially wealthy and independent individualists. Those dreams were exploited easily and have given us the local and the presidential politics of the Reagan revolution. And all through that dark period, Ted strove on, cutting deals, compromising where compromise would at least gain the embattled middle class some small help.

I was so disgusted by the response a self-absorbed electorate and media handed the profoundly decent but unwily Carter that I voted for John Anderson in 80. The national political scene had become an ethical vacuum. Yet all that while Teddy beat the drums for better benefits and programs. Even as I withdrew from the fights over the wrong issues that could have no winners, I recall being impressed how Kennedy could so respectfully engage the barking and repugnantly narrow representatives of One Selfishness Under God. That capacity to remain engaged, to find a way to get any opponent to look you in the eye ...that is the gift of a great politician. I grew to know I was not such a creature and he, with few peers, was.

Not until MoveOn offered me what seemed like a real voice, did I reengage in politics. But after four years of hopeful changes and improvements, my own politics are now nearly ready to walk off the field again. If a Radical Greens party springs up, I might waste my vote on them in symbolic and futile protest. I see a nation that has lied to itself about how bad its economy was until its crooked and faked affluence nearly collapsed. I see a country that has lied to itself about how to live well until it is rife with life style and environmentally induced diseases and wants only a quick cheap fix. I see a country with a pathologically overgrown sense of its place among the economic and military forces that will shape history. Economic and political power will be wrenched from the hands of any nation that poisons itself and lets the mass of ill, poor and unrepresented only grow. I see a nation that has now lost one of its last lions for the little man, one of the unthanked giants who worked to give those dreaming individualists what they needed rather than what they wanted. Without that concern which Kennedy embodied for the welfare of the citizen above the welfare of corporate power, we will be too weak a country to address our real problems.

1 comment:

Belle Gunness said...

Not even a mention of Mary Jo Kopechne, huh? Typical fauxgressive male. Do you defend Roman Polanski, too?