In today's hopelessly polarized America, if you're a liberal, you're in sackcloth and ashes; if you're conservative, you're on your feet and cheering. Such is life. The man who likely worked harder on universal health care than anyone else is dead. Ted Kennedy, the youngest of four remarkable Kennedy boys, succumbed to brain cancer diagnosed only a year or so ago. He died just a few weeks after his older sister Eunice did, two of a tabloid-feature family that, for years, was America's royalty. Camelot is gone.
When "Lion of the Senate" weighed in, people listened, although his point of view rarely came as a surprise. What was surprising was how he frequently brought both sides of the empire together, often enough in secret. He was a good friend of a number of long-time Washington conservatives, men and women with whom, politically, he shared, seemingly, nothing. The man had people skills that vastly surpassed all of his equally-famous brothers, those who knew him say.
His life and career were forever tarnished by an incident never totally understood, a mystery that was seemingly left so. One night in July of 1969, young and randy Teddy, accompanied by a young woman, not his wife, veered off a bridge on the tiny Massachusetts island of Chappaquiddick. Teddy swam away and lived; Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, did not. It seemed to me then--and to a ton of Americans--that even death, for the Kennedys was somehow political. That incident may well have kept him from the office one of his storied brothers held and another so deeply coveted.
But both of those brothers were murdered, one as President, the other as a candidate. Twice, Teddy stood by and watched his own flesh and blood fall at the hands of assasins. He ran, for better or worse, the final leg of the Kennedy relay, finishing strong, a powerhouse in the Senate, the lion.
There's so many angles to the story that it's not hard to see why we've splashed the Kennedys all over our magazine covers for so many decades. Poor Irish immigrants pull themselves up by their bootstraps to rise, in mythic American fashion, to the very top of the nation's elite, both rich and famous, although that ascension was more than a little inglorious. But they got there, and that's what matters in this country. From stem to stern, they were fast-livvers. When John F., was murdered in Dallas, he became more of a god than a man, even though his Princess wife, more often than not, had slept alone, unlike her husband the king.
In this country, Ted championed every liberal cause known to man. But if, right now, he were leading the Senate and not Harry Reid, conservatives from Glen Beck to Joe Scarborough would find it harder to scream. He was, by all reports, a very kind man, sensitive, made that way, perhaps, by his own personal history. He carried so much story with him that sometimes, I'm sure, he found all of it very difficult to shoulder.
But he's gone now, and, although the family isn't, for the most part his passing closes the book on a story that's really a whole family of novels.
Regardless of his politics or yours or mine, the Kennedy story is quintessentially American and bigger, even, than they are. Finally, Camelot is more about you and me than it is about them--that's how big it was.
And now he's gone, and they are. Cry or cheer, it's the final chapter. But then, these mortal coils turn to dust long before legends die. The Kennedys were a legend.