The UWIRE Forum


Progressive student mourns ‘Liberal Lion’ Kennedy
August 26, 2009, 3:20 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
Chris Burks

Chris Burks

Somewhere there is a city in a kingdom whose prince is now smiling down upon the land. High above this city towers a Great Colossus with a tablet, inscribed with the immortal “Bring me your tired, your poor….”  The Colossus’ raised hand emanates a great light that shines for all to see.  The light shines above the darkness, above the dark water.

The Senator, like the city and the country, was sometimes mired in that dark water.  His ideals, indeed his imagined inauguration became only a dream that he drove into the dark water.

The Senator had struggled. He had struggled his whole life. He had trouble, not the struggle of those trying to make a living in this great City, in the Great County, but he had battled every day of his life for those striving to survive, and for himself.

That battle, the struggle for health care, and education, and minimum wages, and humane immigration policies, and common-sense solutions for everyday people, and the private and family struggles, was, and ever remains, the story of his life.

United States Senator Ted Kennedy, now deceased at 77, fought for others to live the regal life many saw in his own family.  Eulogized as the “liberal lion of the North” or the “Lion King,” Kennedy remains more simply our American Prince, a man whose familiarity with tragedy and shortcoming could be described as nothing short of American.

The essence of the man can and will be written about and debated. Surely it does no dishonor to discuss or learn from the life of public officials, no matter how recently deceased.  Yet the tendency to overdo an impact is all too easy with a Kennedy, and there will be much temptation to hoist Ted Kennedy’s legacy onto a particular public policy.

But discrete public policies fade. Ideas and essences stand fast. Ideas about a nation of immigrants, learned of the experience of the Irish in this vast land, run deep in today’s liberalism. Ideas about equal justice and a living wage are alive, stretching from ancient Greece to our own young Republic. Ideas about health and welfare are central to any public debate, no less today than in the 1980 Democratic Primary.

A community, a concept so simple and enduring it is often taken for granted, continues to fight back against the hegemony of the individual advanced by Ayn Rands acolytes and the like. There is a tendency today, as ever, to reject big government, or to indulge in ascertaining minutiae such as the marginal utility to the person. But big ideas about community are what undergird the so-twisted line of ideology that is mainstream modern American progressivism.

Big ideas about America do indeed remain, and our country has always had two great strands: that of the individual and the community.  Both are essential and their elements contain parts good and bad, but modern American progressivism stands firm in its insistence on support for all of those without.

Kennedy, whether nobly or not, advanced big communitarian ideas for those without.  For the immigrant, for the child in a poor school, for those with the misfortune to be born without wealth or the luck of great health, Kennedy stood as a man fighting for the people.

And today, as a community, we most certainly hope and dream together and build our world on ideas Kennedy fought for.

Tonight in the city, the light still shines above the darkness, but the dark tide will never fully recede.  It won’t recede as surely as ignorance and self-interest lie dormant within the heart of human nature, which they forever will.  The life of this historic man surely shows that pain and tragedy are real, evil exists and must be sought out to be conquered, but hope remains and compassion is the greatest weapon we can yield against that which tests our better selves.

Let the Pauper’s Prince rest in peace, and let his ideas remain.

Chris Burks is a second-year law student at the University of Arkansas.

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5 Comments so far
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Nice work, Chris.

Comment by Cory

I can’t believe you can only allude to Chappaquiddick and Mary Jo Kopechne in flowery language meant to praise Ted Kennedy. What about her tragedy?

As for his struggles being “nothing short of American,” I am not sure how driving drunk, leaving a woman who is not your wife to die, and then not telling anyone until you sober up and realize how to spin it to save your career is in anyway American. I feel for the Kennedy family for all of their tragedies and I wish the best for them now, but enough with the lionization.

Comment by Michael Warren

Michael, Thanks for the response, but the haste and double standards by which today’s conservatives seek to demonize those that disagree with them is getting a bit tiresome.

I certainly understand the impulse and engaged in such rhetoric myself years ago. I would decry that men with multiple divorces and marital problems like Gingrich, Sanford, Guiliani, and Vitter led the opposition to Bill Clinton.

I would rail against the conservatives like George and Laura Bush, as the evidence of George’s youthful drug use and indiscretions were aplenty, and Laura Bush herself was a driver in a fatal car accident.

Something happened over time though. I got over personal political attacks and started writing about ideas and policies. I realized that shortcomings, even criminal ones, were all too common in those we elect to represent us. That realization doesn’t excuse those actions, only that it was futile to waste the effort highlighting and judging people’s current character by specific incidents in the past.

I’m confident I could go round for round with you and win a debate over whether there are more conservatives in public office with character flaws, but why bother in such juvenile games?

As I said in my article, evil exists. Let’s debate policies and ideas, and if the current character of a public official is so egregious, let’s debate it as well, but to express outrage over such an incident is to put forward a mindset of partisan operative, not a commentator seeking to advance good public policy.

Lastly, I did allude to that tragedy even as you played fast and loose with the facts in your response.

Thanks, Chris

Comment by Chris Burks

Sorry, Chris, but that dog don’t hunt. I never defended those Republicans you mentioned, but I also didn’t write stirring eulogies for them–and I don’t plan on it. That said, isn’t there an issue of scale here? Mark Sanford cheated on and lied to his wife. Ted Kennedy was involved in the death of another person and failed to act or own up to his actions until he could be sure to spin it for his advantage. That’s not just a “character flaw”; that’s reprehensible for anyone, let alone a political leader. If nobody is perfect, Ted Kennedy was REALLY not perfect. I think that’s relevant when you bring up his care for others.

By the way, I like what you did there: go through a litany of so-called “personal political attacks” before saying you don’t write them anymore.

But if it’s ideas you want to debate (which I surely want to as well), let’s talk about how the policies Kennedy supported aren’t exactly helpful to the downtrodden. Higher taxes on the wealth creators, affirmative action, more government intervention–how does this redistribution help folks realize the American dream of the Kennedys? It seems they only keep those folks down, subordinating them to a more powerful government with a decreasing pool of funds if wealth creation is deincentivized through more regulation, higher taxes, etc. Maybe from the banks of Hyannis Port, these measures seemed noble and compassionate, but they only retard growth and keep people in their place. Let’s go back to the tax cuts of President Kennedy for an example. Maybe all that matters to some is whether a politician is caring or not, but I’d rather see results that advance the individual, not the community.

Comment by Michael Warren

Thanks for the response and I hope we can continue debating and writing about taxes, affirmative action, and government intervention.

I still think you are playing fast and loose with the facts when you wrote “Ted Kennedy was involved in the death of another person and failed to act or own up to his actions until he could be sure to spin it for his advantage.”

It seems I have a fundamentally different understanding than you do of that incident and I’m sure we won’t agree on that facts there, but one of the points of my article was that Ted Kennedy was “really not perfect.”

Also, I won’t get into the problem of scale too much because I don’t care about a lengthy debate over the relative weight of certain sins, but I included Laura Bush and her fatal car accident for a reason.

As for taxes, progressive taxation can spur investment that leads to more income for all individuals.

Speaking generally, Bush-era tax policies cut taxes more for the wealthy, and effectively increased taxes on everyone else with rising rates of inflation and decreasing income, purchasing power, etc.

If taxes are cut only for the wealthy, there is have a delayed economic effect because the money is invested and not put more directly into the economy through consumption. EITC’s and targeted middle class tax-relief are much better vehicles for individual economic growth than Bush policies.

Further, more regulation can spur individual wealth as well, see the expansion of the Federal Minimum wage.

I’m sure we can get into affirmative action another time, but I’d be more than happy to defend many examples of the success of some programs at creating wealth and equitable outcomes for individuals and communities.

Thanks, Chris

Comment by Chris Burks




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