Senator Kennedy died Tuesday night, a victim of a malignant glioma, the terrible brain tumor which had kept him away from the health-care bill where so many of us has hoped he would conjure his legislative magic one last time.
He was 77.
To say the least, he was a complex man -- for me, growing up either in or on the fringes of conservative Orange County, California, his name was a joke, a sure laugh line, a sort of argument-ender that more confident kids would throw at me. For much of his life, his personal life was worthy of that opprobrium; his alcoholism and moral failures are well known. It's fair, I think, to remember Mary Jo Kopechne today. But looking at the Senate now, and following the careers of legislators like Chuck Grassley, Max Baucus, Harry Reid, Kent Conrad and so many others, Kennedy's political genius and goodwill is ever more apparent. His list of legislative accomplishments, many bipartisan, is long.
And he gave us Obama. I'm truly convinced of that.
Richard Nixon, who earned himself far graver disgrace than Kennedy's in the decade I became aware of politics, did no similar work toward redemption, and yet he received it anyway. I personally don't believe that Kennedy needs redemption at this point. But perhaps his example can still help redeem our politics? I hope now that his life -- his scandals, his strength, his privilege, his tragedy, his inspirational and even ridiculous qualities -- will inspire us to do better.
August 28 update: I'm less sure than I was when I wrote this that Kennedy needed no redemption at the end of his life. In any event, it was crass to just throw the idea out there unsupported. Joyce Carol Oates, who wrote a novel inspired by Chappaquiddick, gives the idea the complexity it deserves in a Guardian essay.
Card Blue on Edward Kennedy:
Ezra Klein gathered a nice collection of links to Kennedy material:
Some Ted Kennedy Links