Friday, August 28, 2009

Too Late the Hero

At the funeral ceremony for his brother Robert, Edward Kennedy quoted at some length a speech that Robert had given to students in South Africa:

"For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves, on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that effort."

There must have been moments when Edward Kennedy wished he had gone out like his illustrious brothers John and Robert. Who can say what John would have amounted to if he had chosen to remain a Massachusetts senator instead of running for president in 1960? He would certainly not have had to live and work under a shadow all his life, as Edward did. Or if Bobby had chosen to remain the senator for New York rather than seek his party's nomination as candidate for president in 1968?

As imprudent as it may seem, one may as well ask the same question of everyone we have lost too soon. Had they lived long enough, would they have been as maligned as Edward was? And yet, by not running for president and by living to a ripe enough old age, Ted Kennedy took the toughest road that a Kennedy has ever taken. His accomplishment was performing the thankless task of administering the ideals that his brothers died for, day after day for nine consecutive terms. His critics would never let us forget the "accident" at Chappaquiddick. It was certainly a factor in his conspicuous lack of presidential ambitions. As an Irish-American, he was mistakenly quick to blame the British for the "troubles" in Northern Ireland, and his views were certainly altered over the years.

John and Bobby were like soldiers fallen in battle, who will forever remain as they were. But there is always a temptation to overvalue what we have lost. The battlefield to which Ted was consigned for 43 years - the floor of the Senate - had its own way of trivializing principles and slowly degrading resolve, assuming that Ted had either. But after seeing his more brilliant and forthright brothers give their last measure of devotion to the Republic, Ted took up his post down in the trenches of the Senate for a much smaller constituency, who alone can tell us how well he served them.

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