August 30, 2009
Kennedy Without Tears
The vast outpouring of Obama worship flowing from screen and press this past year should surely produce a feeling of unease if not disgust to a people and a country that boast of having kicked out royalty to gain independence. The nauseating output of obsequiousness and sycophancy appalls the balanced mind. Who would guess that in a modern democratic country, as proudly cynical and ironic as that of 21st century America, in which "edgy" and "irreverent" are the ultimate terms of approbation, that hero worship of the most fatuous and juvenile variety would consume the masses?
And especially as cheer-led by a chattering class of supposedly sophisticated intellectuals. With tingling legs and breathless approval the left marvels at the historic Übermensch they have created. Have they at last abandoned all critical intelligence? Never before, it would seem, have we had a leader more intelligent, cool, resolute, and enlightened as the current political messiah. The appellation of a "Zen Presidency" described by the New York Times' Bob Herbert, is unfortunately, not a derisive joke. It is a heartfelt devotion.
But, alas, the sickness comes not just from the left. Books, magazines and videos of the type suitable for subjects like Elvis and Princess Diana, lavishly illustrated, lushly and turgidly written, and without a critical thought or idea, fly off the shelves. Who is buying this treacle? To many younger Americans it is a spectacle never seen before.
But it has happened before... And in many ways, the late senior Senator from Massachusetts was a victim of its worst manifestation.
In the aftermath of Dallas, there came a rush to canonize the dead President that no genuine saint could match. An avalanche of hagiographies, journals, notebooks, memoirs, magazines, movies, and (most of all) picture books flooded the land. Airports, ballparks, streets, and schools were re-named almost overnight. It was a great story, tragic in a Shakespearean manner, and it was told again and again. And, it is not to be denied, the hands of some very talented writers set to work. Manchester, Schlesinger, White, Reston, Sorenson, Wicker, Bradlee, and many lesser known, all willing and anxious to add prose poems to the plastic monuments.
The murder of Robert and the unhinging of the left in subsequent years added tragic force to the nostalgic idealization of a once better time and an authentic hero. No amount of historical reevaluation, it seems, can dispel the myth. Poll after poll shows Americans continue to regard a brief interlude of serial disasters as one of the glowing times in our history.
Edward M. Kennedy, the youngest of Joseph P. Kennedy's famous offspring, has been a hard-working Senator since the time of his brother's presidency - a very long time. Hardly a Daniel Webster, or a "lion of the Senate" as his obituaries will no doubt claim, he has been an effective leader for the left and a thorn in the side of Republicans. He has been especially good at blocking judicial appointees of high merit (Robert Bork), and working with moderate Republicans on pro-Statist legislation. He will however, no doubt, despite a long and solid political career, be remembered as a tragic disappointment.
Detractors and critics will focus on points curiously beyond the interest of intrepid reporters at CNN, Time, the New York Times and The Washington Post: the death of Mary Jo at Chappaquiddick, the fractured marriage, the pants-less outings on Good Friday with nephews and their companions, and other, shall we say, faux pas.
But the essential point should be made and can be made that Kennedy and his legacy have legitimate value for future generations, if only as a cautionary tale, that the promotion of politicians as demi-gods and national heroes is a dangerous and disastrous act. Infatuation (and in the case of JFK and Obama that is the precise word) with a politician invariably ends in degradation.
A victim of the cruel consequence of absurdly high expectations, Ted Kennedy, who knew the truth about his flawed brothers, and enjoyed a long and relatively healthy life, will undoubtedly be remembered not as a tragic saint, but perhaps, to many, sadly, as an inadequate mediocrity. Entering his latter days, it is pathetic to think he spent them maneuvering to get his Senate seat in friendly hands. As if eternity cares about legislative majorities and the minutia of universal suffrage democracy.
Perhaps the seemingly deathless mystique of the Kennedy phenomenon will go with him. His final act, coming during the ascendancy of another emperor-sans-clothes is a fitting, if pedestrian end to the forty-five years of nonsense known as Camelot.