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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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