Thursday, August 27, 2009

'An idealist without illusions'

After nearly 36 hours of wall-to-wall tributes to (and critiques of) Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy, who died of brain cancer Tuesday night, I can't say much that hasn't been said.

Kennedy was neither as good as his devotees insist he was, nor was he as evil as his detractors claim. On one hand, I don't much care about the Chappaquiddick incident or about his father's appeasement of Hitler 31 years earlier -- both interesting, both ultimately irrelevant. On the other, I fundamentally oppose many (if not most) of the positions he advocated without apology.

I avoid fixing on either convenient extreme. In the interest of intellectual honesty, I prefer to look at the whole man.

Much like George W. Bush, Kennedy emerged from a powerful American family to become a colossal screwup as a young man. It took him almost 40 years to find his way, such as it was, but once he did he became a political force of Nature.

That second act, which is well documented, earned the respect of colleagues and constituents, supporters and opponents. Despite his elite lineage, Kennedy spent his later decades in service to those far less fortunate than he.

He wasn't a bunker-dwelling critic -- he was an activist, a self-described "idealist without illusions," the rare public servant who stands in front of the battlements.

If how a man finishes is more important than how he starts -- and I believe that it is -- then Ted Kennedy ran his race well. I honor his service.