By Haleigh Miller, ’12, News Editor
It’s rare to find somebody who has the moral fiber to face his imperfections and overcome the low expectations people assign him. Not to completely bash humanity, but as a race, we tend to give in to our circumstances, throw up our hands, and say, “I tried!” I suspect that when people manage to succeed in this feat, its rarity is the reason they tend to find themselves revered by others, whether they set out for it or not.
That’s the story of Ted Kennedy. On Aug. 25, America lost a man who was considered to be one of, if not the, greatest legislators of our time. He started as the black sheep and screwup of the Kennedy clan and ended as perhaps the most successful. He outlived all his brothers by a solid 40 years, held his seat in the Senate for approaching 50, and left his thumbprints on some of the most important legislation of our time.
That’s not to say it was easy, or that Kennedy was a perfect man. I’m a huge supporter, and I can’t think of a single way to avoid saying he was a flawed individual. There was the Chappaquiddick incident, in which Ted somehow managed to escape the car he was in, late at night, with a woman who was not his wife, when it crashed and was submerged, and the woman drowned, while he claimed to have no memory of how he had escaped from the car. Then there was the failed presidential election in 1980, in which Kennedy lost most of the Democratic primaries to President Jimmy Carter, even though Carter was intensely disliked at the time. Kennedy was considered the black sheep of the family—the only son who wasn’t in the Navy (he served in the Army), the youngest, and apparently the most vulnerable to scandal. But somehow, being the extraordinary person that Teddy Kennedy was, he managed to overcome all that, and become the Lion of the Senate.
Currently, when we claim to be advanced and cultured and civil, we can barely seem to reach across party lines. Even now, I choose to hold back my flaming-liberal views before I get too far into political debates with people I don’t wish to completely alienate. While some people are more gifted in this area, it seems to be a general trend that most Americans simply cannot have successful and civil political debates. In this respect, we should all turn to Kennedy. He was known for his fantastic ability to scream his head off in a manner that would make an angry Louisiana farmer proud on the Senate floor, but as soon as he walked off, he’d embrace his recent opponent in a bear hug that would probably crush small children and invite him or her out for dinner. He genuinely made friends across party lines and was capable of debating with those friends on a level that never crossed the line of “too far,” but still drove his point home.
The other skill I consider to be most worthy of admiration was the ability to know when to fold and when to grit your teeth, dig your heels in, and fight for what you can’t let go of. What I mean is, Ted Kennedy was one of the only individuals I’ve ever heard of with such a strong sense of when compromise was the best way to get what he wanted, as opposed to the times when settling would only compromise the integrity of what his goal. More people need to develop this skill, or America is essentially sentencing itself to extremely long debates, much longer than necessary, over the minute details. The sweet thing about our form of government is that we can change things. It’s this spiffy new concept called amendments. Heard of them? When Social Security and Medicare were first passed, they were much smaller programs than they are today. We got them passed and then worked to expand. It’s really a neat idea…
Back to Kennedy. There’s one last thing I would like to celebrate about the Lion. Think about your parents, your friends’ parents, of even yourself. How many times have they or you changed careers, classes, or directions, just because of becoming bored? Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done it about 50,000 times, give or take 500, but here’s my point: Teddy Kennedy was in the Senate for 47 years. Coincidentally, that’s exactly how long Mr. Tumolo has been teaching at CCDS. Consider that. Forty-seven years. Kennedy was a senator through ten different presidents, including his brother John. Now, call me crazy, but this appears to have been a man with extraordinary powers of commitment, because without them, I can comprehend no possible way of maintaining the same position for that long, going through some intensely rocky situations on a national level.
My point, overall, is to give some serious kudos to an extraordinary man, and point out that non-perfect people can do alarmingly impressive things. Too often we hear about people’s successes, but not their flaws, and it plants the mistaken idea in our heads that one must be perfect to succeed. I hate to point out so many of his flaws, but, clearly, the late Senator Kennedy proves that wrong. With his passing, I’m deeply sorry to see the end of Camelot, the Kennedy era, and the end of one of the greatest legislators, and men, that this country has ever seen.
Photo courtesy of thewashingtonnote.com.