Thursday, May 22, 2008

Another Lion of the Senate

Here is a “for the record” disclaimer: I doubt that you could find many points of agreement with my politics and those of Senator Edward Kennedy, but I know of one point that is huge and telling. His record shows that he understands the difference between ideological purity on the one hand and the necessity of finding common ground in order to govern effectively on the other, and he nearly always comes down firmly on the side of effective governance.

In the initial news reports following the announcement of the Senator’s medical condition, the appearance of commentary from across the political spectrum was immediate and concerned…if not heartbroken. What is it about this man, deeply flawed as he may be, that evokes the obvious and evident regard of people as dissimilar as Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Patrick Leahy? Simply put, Senator Kennedy learned the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable.

Politics is important business, but it is not a campaign between good and evil. People of good character and fine intentions disagree about how one might best achieve optimal results in a democratic society, but there is far more that we have in common than separates us. Men like Senator Kennedy understand that you should never let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and so you find those points of agreement and agree on them. Then you compromise to allow each side to get some more of what it wants. And, finally, the majority will get a slightly larger say just because it can, and then you have a bill. It will not be perfect, but you can always fix the parts that don’t work, and, in any event, you are addressing a problem with legislation that a broad spectrum of representatives can support.

A few years ago, I started digging into Senate history and discovered what was, to my mind, an astonishing truth: in the course of his public career, Senator Kennedy has been one of the most effective legislators in United States history. There is scarcely a major piece of legislation since 1962 that does not have his fingerprints on it somewhere. And it isn’t just the result of excellent staffwork (though his senatorial staffs have been consistently top notch). He works at it conscientiously, and apparently loves the give and take that goes into the process. Even more important in a collegial body like the Senate, he apparently refuses to hold a grudge.

I find I cannot hold one either. The good he has done in his life far outweighs the sins and flaws in my estimation, and I wish him Godspeed and good luck.

And there was this from the Democratic National Convention in 1980:

“And someday, long after this convention, long after the signs come down, and the crowds stop cheering, and the bands stop playing, may it be said of our campaign that we kept the faith. May it be said of our Party in 1980 that we found our faith again.

And may it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved, and that have special meaning for me now:

"I am a part of all that I have met....
Tho much is taken, much abides....
That which we are, we are--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
...strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

1 comment:

girlfriday said...

I respect your writing this. Sure is hard to respect Senator Kennedy, though. His illness is more a matter of remembering to "pray for your enemies," frankly. A good politician does not a good man make.