NORWOOD – We were just the right age for the Kennedy myth – the Camelot of those heady days of the 1960s when John and Jackie Kennedy filled our lives with their energy, their liberated visions and their style.
We were on the train from Denver to Chicago, to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, when we heard the terrible news – the President had been assassinated.
And this last weekend, we were burying Ted Kennedy, who, after all these years, had himself become larger than life. Four or five days of mourning, public events, tours of important landmarks in the life of this remarkable – but definitely flawed – national leader.
And then the formal Catholic funeral mass on Saturday, with burial in Arlington National Cemetery, near his iconic brothers John and Bobby, both, unbelievably, felled by assassin’s guns.
I’ve never been much into funerals, and this was simply too much; I’d pass, I told myself, and turn off the news if this was all they talked about.
But that wasn’t the way it was at all. The TV and radio coverage was so varied, so full of the positive energy and the talent that Ted Kennedy brought to his 46 years as the Senator from Massachusetts, that I watched – and listened.
I’m always a sucker for the message of hope, and this was this Kennedy’s underlying message, as the PBS historians reminisced about the Kennedy legacy, about patriarch Joe Kennedy’s vision of a Kennedy dynasty and their Catholicism and how that would play.
And although my parents liked to describe themselves as “progressive Republicans,” even as a child in Chicago in the 1930s, I can remember dinner-table references to the notion that a candidate’s color, religion and gender – had to be white, male and Protestant.
Now, be reminded here that my family was pretty progressive, but still strongly Republican – anti-union and all. I’m embarrassed to even remember this incident, but perhaps because so much – thankfully – has changed, the fact of it has haunted me all these years.
In 1936, Alf Landon, New York ‘s highly regarded Governor, a Republican, had won his party’s nomination to run for the presidency against Franklin D., Roosevelt, the highly controversial pro-labor semi-Socialist Democrat. Landon would never be elected president, my family speculated, because numbers of Americans would not vote for a president who was Jewish. Not then, anyhow.
And so I watched and listened to the Kennedy tribute – this amazing American family and the spectacle of this nation coming together to acknowledge the life and accomplishments of its youngest son, Ted, who the New York Times called simply “the most effective lawmaker in the history of the Senate.” Republicans, such as Utah’s Orin Hatch, although he disagreed with the very liberal Boston native, said Kennedy had the ability to compromise in such a way that he preserved the essence of what was important to him.
And, Hatch said, the two had great respect, admiration and affection for each other. They were friends. Over his Senate years, dozens of landmark laws have borne Ted Kennedy’s imprint. Groundbreaking legislation, such as Medicare and Medicaid, and bills that benefit children and the underprivileged. And now, as a nation, we are furiously debating national health care reform – something Kennedy pushed for decades. What a perfect tribute it would be to pass such a reform, and name it after Ted Kennedy, its longtime champion.