We, the Living
Irish wake marks renewal of purpose.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
The rites of passage surrounding Ted Kennedy’s death walked the line between the moving and the maudlin. But at the end of the day, one message arose between the tears and laughter, the innumerable acts of kindness and private missteps: The only lasting way to honor Kennedy’s memory is to pass meaningful health care reform. Now. Tomorrow is too late; next year is out of the question.
Now that the public spectacle has come to an end, let his family mourn the man who took on the sometimes-tortured Camelot torch. The most appropriate way to honor a public servant like Kennedy, who continued to fight for his goals on the political battlefield long after his two brothers had paid the ultimate price for a public life, is to make tough political calculations, and to show the necessary resolve.
Let’s remember: It was only after JFK’s assassination – and quite possibly because of his assassination – that Lyndon Johnson was able to push through the landmark Voting Rights Act that was previously stymied in Congress. The similarity to the health care gridlock is stark.
Before John Kennedy was killed, there were the same lunatic stirrings from the far right, particularly in Texas, that have marked the current debased “debate’’ on health care. The Birthers of the world, the Tea Party crowd, and those who bring arms to presidential rallies, or defend the right of others to do so, are so far beyond the fringe that their arguments no longer deserve serious attention. To pretend that the current furor is not directly related to the election of our first African-American president, and deep-rooted racism, is to ignore the truth.
The haters cannot be allowed to dominate or overtake political dialogue, let alone political action.
To concede that Ted Kennedy had personal foibles, with tragic consequences, is to affirm the blindingly obvious. While deploring Kennedy’s wrong turns, from his drive off the road in Chappaquiddick to a quixotic presidential run that probably cost Jimmy Carter a second term, it’s impossible not to recognize that he had one hell of a second act – from a successful, stabilizing remarriage, to a career as the greatest legislator of his time, perhaps in American history.
The fact that he saw the potential in Barack Obama early, and delivered a key endorsement of his campaign at a time when it was desperately needed, is a testament to the belief he had in the essential good judgment of the American political system, and the unyielding belief that hope can triumph over cynicism, good works over ill deeds.
I’ve always scoffed at the paranoia of the left, the oft-stated belief that fascism is just around the corner. The resilience of the system, despite the ways it has been tested by extremists on both ends, has refuted a pessimism that seems more ideological and snobbish than pragmatic, given the cyclical nature of history.
Asking “why do they hate us?’’ after the attacks of Sept. 11 seemed an inappropriate response to an attack by a group of fanatics. But if they didn’t hate us before, Bush’s war certainly earned us new enemies.
Listening to the expressions of raw hate, and an ignorance that is no better than hate, at the town halls – led locally by Rep. Sam Farr, who kept his patience while being heckled at Monterey Institute of International Studies and in Salinas this week – has been a dispiriting look inside the minds and souls of too many of our countrymen.
I’ve seen faces contorted with anger, heard misrepresentations about “socialism,” listened as angry white men lashed out at Mexican-Americans (who do the dirty work no one else is willing to take on), been stunned by misleading red herrings about “death panels,’’ and listened to right-wing Republicans (who sat blithely by while Bush ran up the federal deficit) cry wolf about the potential costs of fixing a broken system.
Even paranoids have real enemies, and evil words have evil consequences.
It wasn’t until Timothy McVeigh and Oklahoma City that the indecent rhetoric of Newt Gingrich subsided, and the Clinton administration was able to take modest steps toward social progress and economic justice.
Enough is more than enough.
Ted Kennedy was bigger than his enemies, physically and psychologically, refusing to succumb to the petty even as he acknowledged his own failings. Obama has an almost unearthly ability to see the world from others’ point of view.
But the attacks – and the atmosphere of hate and violence being provoked on the right – need to stop. No litmus tests on the minutiae of this incredibly complicated piece of public policy need apply. But failing to fix health care is not an option.
Let others bury the dead, mourn, celebrate and remember.
Now is the time to take care of the living.