I was around ten years old when my father and I arrived late to Ted Kennedy’s speech. I caught a glimpse of the senator and with his entourage waiting to enter the room as we rushed to our seats in the union hall. The light beaming from the auditorium shined on Kennedy. This only magnified his mythic image in my eyes.
He may have given a stump speech. For me, it was hearing decades of political history encapsulated in less than an hour. Kennedy remarked on meeting a construction worker who confronted the young candidate on never working a day in his life. The patriarch of Hyannis Port was startled by the comment. The laborer quickly added “you haven’t missed a thing.”
Kennedy was a complex figure. A troubled man in his personal life, but beloved by millions. A wealthy and privileged member of the ruling class, yet one who was reviled by conservatives of all economic backgrounds. A stalwart liberal who stood on the right side of many issues, but a politician ready to work for compromises with his Republican colleagues in the senate.
When Michael Harrington was dying, Democratic Socialists of America organized a celebration of his life. At the event, Kennedy famously said of Harrington’s beliefs: “Some call it socialism. I call it the Sermon on the Mount.” These two old Irish-Americans, while choosing remarkably different paths of public service, could still find common ground in their progressivism via their Catholic upbringings.
Ted Kennedy was my senator for the past several months. I’ve found my neighbors are still speaking of him in the present tense. It seems many are still surprised he is gone despite his long illness. Only time will tell how we’ll go forward without our liberal lion.