The Last of the Kennedys

Of the three “great” Kennedys, will it be the youngest who leaves the most substantial and solid legacy? Probably. It is true that Edward M. Kennedy – senator, old lion, Uncle Ted – was able to enjoy that which his two elders, John and Robert, were tragically deprived: longevity.

Ted Kennedy died at the age of 77.

He was the youngest of Joseph and Rose Kennedy’s nine children. After having consolidated the local financial and political scene, they became founders of a national political dynasty. In the second half of the 20th century, the Kennedy clan became the closest thing to a European royal family for America.

Perhaps all nations feel the need to project this sort of imagery?

In this case, Americans no longer have this sort of thing on hand. The Bush and Clinton “dynasties” are not really the same thing. And, with Edward gone, it is not easy to see which Kennedy of the following generation might be able to regenerate the family’s blue blood.

In this portrait, Ted Kennedy will always occupy the place of the heir apparent, relegated to the end of the succession line: the place of the youngest child, who is by definition less talented and less prudent, who accidentally inherits the duty of trying to attain the presidential throne . . . which he didn’t want. Moreover, he failed, by lack of conviction, justifiably, and by reason of a private life weighed down by public weaknesses.

His place was in Congress, where he worked for 47 years to become, without doubt, the most important legislator of his generation.

It is a cruel irony that he disappears just at the moment when Barack Obama, to whom he passed the torch, is fighting to reform the health care system. For Edward Kennedy, that was, in effect, his life’s work, “the great unfinished task of the Democratic Party agenda,” he called it in 1980. In fact, among his Senate victories were numerous laws concerning health care access for elderly or needy people, neighborhood clinics and the fight against AIDS.

Many of these victories were the result of his ability to charm and to negotiate, to “cross the aisle” and to recruit his adversaries.

Which leads to this:

The last of the Kennedys profoundly and truly possessed talent and discretion. Unwaveringly progressive, he cultivated utopia in a realistic manner, so to speak: aware that politics is the art of the possible; aware that to move forward is a matter of motion and of compromise, not of stasis and rigidity.

Edward M. Kennedy knew how to be humble while defending his grand causes, and he was never crushed – unlike so many self-proclaimed progressives – under the weight of his greatness.

That was his own way of being noble.

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