Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Loss of an icon

It feels like one of those days where Canadian politics will be completely overshadowed by American news. The news late last night that Senator Ted Kennedy has died is huge and if you're like me, you may feel surprisingly walloped by the news. For as long as most of us have followed U.S politics, he's been the quintessential Senator, the icon of an American politician. You think of the trademark accent, the hair (yes!), the Kennedy mythology, the movie star stature, the scandals and the achievements, he's always been there in the American political theatre. So it's incredibly sad news. There's a good overview of his life and career in the New York Times' obituary today, some excerpts here:
He was a Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life, instantly recognizable by his shock of white hair, his florid, oversize face, his booming Boston brogue, his powerful but pained stride. He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy.
Born to one of the wealthiest American families, Mr. Kennedy spoke for the downtrodden in his public life while living the heedless private life of a playboy and a rake for many of his years. Dismissed early in his career as a lightweight and an unworthy successor to his revered brothers, he grew in stature over time by sheer longevity and by hewing to liberal principles while often crossing the partisan aisle to enact legislation. A man of unbridled appetites at times, he nevertheless brought a discipline to his public work that resulted in an impressive catalog of legislative achievement across a broad landscape of social policy.

Mr. Kennedy left his mark on legislation concerning civil rights, health care, education, voting rights and labor. He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at his death. But he was more than a legislator. He was a living legend whose presence insured a crowd and whose hovering figure haunted many a president.
Mr. Kennedy “deserves recognition not just as the leading senator of his time, but as one of the greats in its history, wise in the workings of this singular institution, especially its demand to be more than partisan to accomplish much,” Mr. Clymer wrote in his biography.

“The deaths and tragedies around him would have led others to withdraw. He never quits, but sails against the wind.”
A devastating loss, for sure. It would be a great thing to see the American health care debate become civilized and ultimately successful out of some measure of respect or perspective as a result.