Steve Highsmith Remembers Sen. Ted Kennedy

The human Voice, the Spirit of the Democratic Party is gone. For now, the Voice and the Spirit have been left empty by the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy. He lived a long life, nearly twice that of brothers John and Robert. Much more than brother Joe. Circumstance, opportunity and desire thrust Ted Kennedy forward. He grabbed it, but in the true meaning of the word tragic his flaws steered sharp turns in his life. Many will say he became even more influential by serving in the Senate for so long and so focused, and that the Presidency would never have given him such opportunity. There may be truth there, but it is a convenient one, too. Some will say he divided the Party in 1980, setting it back years. Perhaps. But, he may have been restoring it to what it had earlier started to be. I covered a few national political conventions and in years when Ted Kennedy addressed the delegates, there was a feeling, an energy, an emotion on those convention hall floors that no one else, not even the nominees would match. He was a Democrat's Democrat. He was the voice of liberalism, of peace, of fighting for those denied quality schools, denied access to opportunity, civil rights, denied much of the promise of the Constitution. Now, that unique Voice is silent. The party's Spirit wanders. In the forgiveness and partisanship of our society we will hear saint-like praise for the man. Failings glossed over or explained away. We will also hear, in the coarseness of our society, words like "Good riddance." We heard those words on November 22, 1963. We heard them again in June of 1968. Not long after that, my father, a career Army officer on a post a young Senator Ted Kennedy was visiting, witnessed guns firing at a time the Senator did not expect. My father recalled to me how the Senator winced and partially ducked. The violent loss of loved ones, the burdens of being the sudden father of grief-stricken families and the inherited leader of a grand cause are not excuses for personal failings, but together with other achievements should they not be considered? And, in remembering both, perhaps we view others in a new light. To stand close to such a high-profile person, not as an insider...I was not…but to see the ruddy complexion, to see the expressions when he is listening or talking to someone else, to see the imperfections and mistakes, as well as the triumph, you see and hear more than an image. I found it true with Ronald Reagan. I found it true with Ted Kennedy. There are two transitions now. One for conservatives, one for liberals. I wish there were a third, one for reasonable people who recognize the value in both. Transitions are often not clean breaks. It may be President Barack Obama who becomes the new Voice and Spirit, not by position but by words and action. Senator Ted Kennedy seemed to wish it so in his moving 2008 endorsement of candidate Obama, but such things are chosen not only by the person, but also by the people and by circumstance.

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