26 August 2009


It was interesting to learn on the radio this morning exactly how much the Massachusetts Democracy bent over (backwards if you prefer) to accommodate the Kennedy family. Only the inescapable fact of his age kept Edward from inheriting brother Jack's seat in the U.S. Senate when JFK moved up to the Presidency. As NPR explained it, a "family loyalist" took over the seat for two years until Master Ted was of age, then yielded in his favor. Kennedy held the seat until he died late last night. Against his deathbed wish to have the power of replacement restored to the governor, Kennedy's place will be filled through a special election. There remain Kennedys in politics, but they are all mediocrities compared to Teddy's generation, and the dynasty as a power in national politics is at an end.

The late Senator is being remembered fondly as one of those pols who was still capable of amiable relations with the opposite party while playing hardball on the Senate floor and on the hustings. Republicans speak highly of him today even while admitting that they used him as the scary face of Democratic liberalism for many years to motivate the reactionary base of their party. The point is not that they were hypocrites but that they and he alike accepted the rules of the partisan game and could still be friends off the field of play, an outcome that seems far less likely now that we have a generation of politicians raised on partisan propaganda and demonizing ideologies. That amiability might be overrated, since some people are bound to deserve scorn for what they do, but it's probably preferable to partisans hating each other before they know each other.

Before apparently regaining some stature late in life, Kennedy became a caricature of a liberal politician if not politicians in general: fat, drunk, self-indulgent. This image was not entirely a creation of Republican propaganda. His behavior at Chappaquiddick is, after all, the reason why he could never be nominated for the Presidency by his own party. His ability to continue a political career afterward seemed to prove that politicians, or at least those with wealth and powerful family ties, could get away with anything. Much of today's hostility toward "liberals" is based on the idea that someone like the caricature image of Teddy might be living off our taxpayer dollars and telling us how to live while living la vida loca himself, laughing all the way. But he remained an idol of many liberals because he supported their causes and carried (now to the grave) the kingly charisma of his lineage.

That idolization betrayed something unseemly about some liberals: a weakness for what might be called horizontal dynasticism, less oriented toward handing power over from one generation to another than toward sharing the elected power of an individual with a clan of heroes -- brothers, wives or others. This seems like a liberal trait; by comparison, George W. Bush, a vertical dynast, kept his brother Jeb at arm's length during his regime and famously ducked his father's counsel on certain issues. Why liberals and conservatives, or Democrats and Republicans, should differ this way I really can't say. In any event, the dynastic mentality ill became liberals, and if it's buried with Kennedy it might actually represent a new beginning for Democrats.


hobbyfan said...

As I wrote in my own blog, Sammy, the roar of the "Liberal lion" has been silenced. An era in American politics has ended with Teddy's passing, and today's generation should actually learn from his example, rather than try to chart an unfocused course caused by the agendas set before them.

Anonymous said...

Well, hopefully they won't learn his driving habits, his drinking habits, or his "running around naked in public" habits.

hobbyfan said...

Membership in Nutri-Systems might actually go up, considering how often he was photographed letting that pot belly hang out on his yacht.