Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Teddy Kennedy 1932-2009

"To speak for those who have no voice; to remember those who are forgotten; to respond to the frustration and fulfill the aspiration of all Americans seeking a better life in a better land....for all those whose cares have been our concern, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."

Edward Moore Kennedy, 8/12/80

The lion sleeps....

I'll never forget the night Ted Kennedy gave that speech at the Democratic National Convention after failing to win his party's nomination for the presidency. I was visiting my old pal, Dan O'Brien, who at the time was living in a one-room kitchenette in Liverpool, NY, just north of Syracuse. It was - and remains - the greatest political oration of my lifetime. Watching the event on a small, black and white television set, I instinctively knew that I was witnessing one of those sublime moments in American history that would be remembered a century into the future. Leave it to O'Brien; he slept through the whole damned thing.

My brother, Pete, woke me up just before two AM with the news. Teddy Kennedy died late last night at the age of seventy-seven with his loved ones by his bedside. I assumed that the end was near when he was unable to attend his sister Eunice Shriver's funeral less than two weeks ago. I know from personal experience that when a person with a brain tumor is no longer able to move around with relative ease, it's only a matter of time.

In a life that is littered with ironies, here's the biggest one of all: His three older brothers - Joe, Jack and Bobby - are eternally frozen in our imagination
as the personifications of youth and vigor (or "vigah"). How poignant that our final image of the baby of that family will be as an old man, frail and mortally ill.

His was the most impressive evolution in American political history. When he first ran for the senate forty-seven years ago, I was all of four years old. Had I been writing about politics then, it is a fairly good bet that I would have vehemently opposed the candidacy of Edward Moore Kennedy. Let's be honest; in 1962 the guy was a lightweight. He ran for the Democratic nomination against another young man, Edward McCormick, whose uncle John was the speaker of the House of Representatives. During a debate McCormick told him that were it not for his name, his candidacy would be viewed as a joke. It was a point well made. It is obvious when looking at film of that campaign that our boy Ted is in way over his head.

Who would have dared dream all those years ago that this punk kid would one day evolve into the greatest senator ever to walk those halls?

An incredible realization just came to me: Teddy represented the state of Massachusetts for forty-six years, eight months and nineteen days. That is nearly three months longer than all the years his older brother Jack lived on earth. Forgive the cliche that is so overused it has become trite, but this truly is the end of an era, folks.

The man who would be president....

It was a horrible automobile accident forty years ago this summer, which ended the life of a young woman, that would forever end his chance to pick up the torch that had fallen due to the madness of two different assassins. I know this might sound strange coming from someone who was such an admirer of the man, but in hindsight I am happy Ted Kennedy lost the Democratic primaries to President Carter. It was only after he lost that race - only when he came to terms with the truth that he would never be president - that he became the lion of the senate that history will justly remember him as.

He probably never would have been able to defeat Ronald Reagan had he won the nomination. The pendulum of American politics was swinging in an unfortunate direction in 1980. The right wing lunacy that has dominated our national conversation since then was inevitable, I suppose. It was only when he no longer had one eye focused on the White House that he blossomed as a senator. Most of the legislation that bears his name - that he will be remembered most for - post-date the year 1980.

We are fortunate that Teddy spent all of those years in the senate, fighting the good fight for the not-so-fortunate. That he was hated and scorned by the forces of weirdness is as much a testament to the man's greatness as any example that I can offer. I am told by someone who is at this moment watching FOX Noise (I'm watching MSNBC) that they are focusing more on the man's shortcomings than his virtues. That is as it should be. They couldn't say enough about staunch segregationist Strom Thurmond when he died. In certain instances you can tell more about a man by his enemies than by his friends. It will be more than interesting to see how the bloviators in the extreme right wing react to his death. Count on an outbreak of foot in mouth disease.

He was given a gift that would be denied to his three older brothers and one older sister: the gift of years. That he would be the only one of those four extraordinary men to die of natural causes - to live to have a head full of gray hair - is something we should not take for granted. No other family in American history would pay a heavier price in the cause of public service than the Kennedys. The fact that for many years he was a heavy drinker and that his judgment was often clouded should be forgiven. Given what he went through, who among us would have emerged from the storm with our psychological make up as intact as his obviously was? After Bobby was murdered in 1968, it's a miracle the poor guy didn't drink himself to death.

His demons notwithstanding, his heart was always in the right place. He was the son of privilege who spent his entire public life working overtime for the poor and dispossessed. I'll take Ted Kennedy over any of his colleagues - warts and all. Truth be told, I would have loved to have gotten drunk with the guy. That would have been really cool!

It has been said too many times that he never lived up to his potential, that he will forever be overshadowed by his two brothers. I disagree. Given the limited time that fate would allow them, their legacies are decidedly eclipsed by their little brother's. As John Meacham said this morning on the Morning Joe program, "He certainly belongs in the company of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster." As legislators, Jack and Bobby aren't even in Teddy's league. It's not even close.

So many "red state Americans" who regarded him with suspicion if not outright hatred, will probably never even realize how much they owe Senator Kennedy. It's kind of sad that a lot of the people Kennedy worked the hardest for despised him with a passion borne of decades of anti-Kennedy propaganda. Nothing was handier for a Republican running in a conservative district than the image of Bogeyman Ted in a campaign ad. It usually worked.


I wonder how these people would react if tomorrow - just for a day, mind you - every law Teddy Kennedy is responsible for were made null and void. Call it a hunch but I have a strong feeling that more people than you might suspect are going to miss him now that he's gone.

Teddy, they hardly knew ye!

We're a better country because for seventy-seven years Teddy Kennedy walked amongst us. His impact on the country he loved so much will be felt for generations. The loss his passing means to progressive politics in the United States is incalculable. We need him at this moment in history more than we ever needed him before. It's so unspeakably sad. He's gone and he's not coming back. Now he belongs to the ages.

In the good old Irish Catholic tradition, tonight I'll be drinking a toast or two (or twelve) to you, Ted. Sleep well and thanks.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy
by Peter S. Canellos


At 11:19 AM, Blogger Phil Hoover said...


You are an AMAZING writer....and I love your sense of humor. Get on down to Chicago sometime, I'd love to meet you and visit with you.

At 11:20 AM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

Great tribute, Tom, to a great legislator. His impact will probably be felt for decades. As you said, Senator Kennedy was a champion of the poor, the dispossessed, the downtrodden. I'm not sure anyone in today's government could even come close to having that descriptor attached to their name, save Congressman Kucinich.

Although I'm no longer Roman Catholic, and don't have Irish blood, I'll join you in tipping a cool one to The Lion tonight. He's home now, with his brothers, and a greater celebration couldn't be imagined.

At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Leslie Parsley said...

I just read your comment on LV and linked over for my first visit. I think this is the best, most insightful tibute to TK I've read this morning and probably will read.

If you want to read stuff that really makes you sick, go to and read the comments following the article on TK's death.

I'm new at this blogging business but would like to quote a little from your post, giving you credit as due, of course.

A very perceptive and well thought out piece.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Ellis D., Esq. said...

Ted Kennedy was the type of person that made me proud to be an American. He easily could have sat back on his family wealth and done nothing to help the less fortunate. As JG points out, now all we left is Dennis Kucinich ( of whom I am a fan ). While you guys have a beer in Ted's honor I will fire one up in his honor. RIP Ted, you will be missed and will never be forgotten.

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Great idea, Ellis!

Whatever your buzz-of-choice may be, let's offer up a toast to Ted this evening!

Bottoms up!

Tom Degan

At 5:15 PM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

Tom, one other thought occurred to me early this morning when I heard the news. I sincerely hope, should any decent healthcare bill come out of congress (and I'm not holding my breath), that it's named in honor of Senator Kennedy.

At 5:19 PM, Blogger Avram Mirsky said...


At 7:32 PM, Blogger Hedgie said...

A beautiful tribute to a great American. May he rest in peace.

At 8:06 PM, Blogger Paulette said...

Tom - thanks for a very retrospective post.

Senator Kennedy was a rich white man in America with every opportunity and resource that was available yet he unselfishly decided to become a true servant of the American people and spent his entire adult life serving we the American people.

It must have been difficult for him in ways I cannot imagine to live a life for not just himself but for his brother Bobby and Jack as well. He did enough in his life for all three of them.

I have tremendous respect for all he did especially because he didn’t have to.

To whom much is given, much is expected and Edward Moore Kennedy exceeded every expectation.

At 8:35 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Thank you so much for that, Paulette. You put it perfectly. He could have lived a life of leisure. And yet, he chose to live his life in the arena, "his face marred be sweat...."

Thank you.

Tom Degan

At 9:36 PM, Blogger Dearest Friend said...

Hello, dear...I must have a bit of Irish blood I'm not aware of...maybe? Or maybe it's just the admiration of the great Senator Ted that I was raised with. (BTW - I have a teddy bear named "Honey Fitz de Bear" for obvious reasons...and a "female teddy bear named Josie Bear...because she's Honey Fitz's "wife" - weird...but oh well!))

Anyway...I had tears in my eyes reading your tribute to Senator Ted...he could have had the life of luxury - born to luxury...but he chose another other senator -not even John Quincy Adams who runs a damned close second in championing the down-trodden folk of this country - has a better record.

I feel like I've lost someone close to me...everyone in my family adored the Kennedy family - okay, one grandmother called them names that I dare not repeat hear but, my, I can't say enough about the Kennedys...

I was born just three months before the terrible day of November of '63 and only remember Bobby through video and word of mouth but still...Ted stood through it all...I know in the next few days they'll bring up the "bad" stuff what?

A few mistakes - and aren't we ALL guilty of a few mistakes? - and that's what we'll remember...I say...'scuse me for the more sensitive - that's BULL SHIT!

Medicare, Medicaid...reforms of all sorts...being able to shake hands with your bitterest enemey while working out the best possible compromise all around...that's class, dignity, grace...and good old Irish sensibility.

He'll be missed...

Sleep well, Uncle were an uncle to whole may not have realized it but you were. It's a good thing we have each other to cling to and comfort now...our Uncle Ted is enjoying a warm fire and a glass with his brothers in heaven tonight...

RIP, Senator Kennedy - we hardly knew ye - or any of your brothers!

There goes another great man from Massachusetts...damn...what a great state it is!

Signed affectionately,
Dearest Friend

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, you are fantastic writer. Hopefully, you can write tributes on Pelosi, Holder, Reid, Dodd, Frank and countless others liberal bafoons very soon...none of them could hold Ted K's jockstrap or outdrink him.
I can't say that I always agreed with all of Senator "Chivas" Kennedy's words and actions, but I will say this about him. He didn't change his political views to be popular with anyone, and he seemed to me to be one of the last (if not THE last) member of Congress who truly tried to represent the people who voted for him and not special interest groups.
I am going to hold back on my personal feelings out of respect for the dead. But I will say that Ted Kennedy is the poster child for why we should have term limits in the Senate.
To his credit, he recognized his own shortcomings and yet you liberal freaks use his family tragedies as an excuse for his boozing and killing exploits.
RIP Ted K and now finally you, Mary Jo Kopechne.

Harry from Mass

At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two things come to mind:

#1 St Francis of Assisi- the son of wealth who gave it all up to administer to the less fortunate.

#2 cell phones. Every story tells of someone getting a call from Sen Kennedy at a time of crisis or for congratulations of some sort-
The Sen may have had a gene leaving him vulnerable to a certain type of cancer, but I am guessing his constant use of cell phones was the cause of the tumor.

If we remember, the earlier versions were riskier and as a Senator, he likely had use of them since inception. The family also had a Longevitity gene- I believe 10 years were stolen from the Sen. b/c of the constant use of cell phones. I have more....


At 11:01 AM, Blogger ~~whileuwait said...

Hi Tom-
ok I think I have this under control now-such a Luddite!
part 2:
When JFK died, it was 2 months after my dear 83 y/o Grandmother
passed away- our Matriarch.
An uncle, 2 aunts, my mom - 2 siblings and 3 cousins squeezed into my Dad's Ford and drove
to stand across the street from the entrance to the church for JFK's funeral. I "saw" nothing- but being in the crowd was enough for all of us.
The ignorant messages one is seeing re: Sen EMK, are holdover from the anti-Catholic bias of a bygone- or not so bygone time-I guess 46 years is not enough.
Thanks for your Rant, it helps us through. A 'Salud' w/ a 'Red" to the Senator.

At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Tim (Random Observations) said...

While I certainly wish Ted Kennedy and his loved ones (and admirers!) well, and have no wish to rain on anyone's parade (I'm only responding to a comment Tom posted on my own blog), it saddens me to see so many Americans who put so little seriousness into helping the poor and oppressed.

Did Teddy "spen[d] his entire public life working overtime for the poor and dispossessed"? I don't know his inner motives, but am amazed that he, and so many others (judging from the comments here) pay so much lip service to "caring for the poor", without ever taking time to learn about the impacts of the policies they support -- which more often impoverish and harm the very people they claim to be caring about.

In the short term, ignorance (or apathy) is certainly excusable, and understandable. But in the long term? Sadly, from my own experiences, it appears that having a pose of seeming to be "caring" for the poor is far more important than actually helping them.

At 11:10 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

I have to concede that you make some good points, Tim

whileuwait - Here is a coincidence for you: JFK died two months before my beloved grandmother, Loretta Doran Clements died.

As Steven Wright says:

"It's a small world. But I wouldn't want to paint it."


Tom Degan

At 12:41 PM, Blogger Sue said...

Tom, Hi, my first time here and coming by from papamoka. I was listening to my blog music (Abraham, Martin and John) while reading your comment to Mat and the tears are flowing again! Such beautiful words as I was feeling so bad for such little blog praise for Teddy! Your post here is also a beautiful tribute and I will reread it after I wipe the tears away! Love your blog and I will be adding you to my sidebar. Sue

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Thanks so much for the kind words, Sue. Wow! You've made my day!

I would like to tell you that the GOP will never be coming back. People were saying they were doomed in 1974 and yet in six years there they were - back in power and messing up what used to be a perfectly nice country in which to live. Keep your fingers crossed and your hands folded.

All the best,

Tom Degan

At 2:35 PM, Blogger Amolibri said...

Excellently written, Tom. I add my compliments to the others.

At 2:41 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...


Thank a heap. Really, when you're writing about someone like Teddy Kennedy, the words just flow. The damned thing just wrote itself.

All the best,

Tom Degan

At 4:51 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Hey, folks....

I just received this e-mail from my old pal, Paul Cutting, relating the story of his encounter with Senator Kennedy:

"Its was 1992,We (wife and three kids) decided to go Ice Skating in a rink in Hyannis Port, Ma.(Kennedy Memorial Skating Rink ) We lived in a town near by called Mashpee Ma. I was on the ice with my 6,7, and 10yr olds, and guess who came skating up to us but Sir Teddy Kennedy, He put his arms around the kids and I was holding Emmi's hand and we all took few laps around the rink. The cameras showed up and that night when we got home, we watched ourselves on the news skating with this historical figure, I showed the kids just who he was in history and they were amazed. I remember two things about that day: I was in the presence of a great and gentle man, and I will never forget the sweet smell of some very good Irish whiskey in the air."

Good one, Paul!

At 5:00 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

One more time for Ted:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there’s some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

Sleep well, Ted.

At 5:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you thought about writing obits??? You would do well!.. You seem to enjoy the dead!...

At 5:42 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...




Tom Degan

At 3:07 AM, Blogger B.J. said...


BJ at demwit dot blogspot dot com

At 8:33 AM, Anonymous Frodo, Keeper of the Ring said...

A long, long time ago,in a galaxy far, far away, two Hobbits approached the front door at the house on Hickory Hill in order to solicit a subscription to the WASHINGTON DAILY NEWS. The leader, let's call him Frodo, knocked and the door opened upon his touch. Out bounded a huge St. Bernard whose giant paws forced the Hobbit to go a'tumblin' backwards down the innumerable concrete steps. While he laid there, in this his 10th year, upon his back, with a massive canine easing his pain with sloshy kisses, two ladies, in swimsuits, ran to his aid. The Hobbit opened his eyes upon the faces of Jacqueline and Ethel, who pleaded for his safety. In a moment of capitalistic passion, Frodo looked back, and said "Would you like a subscription to the WASHINGTON SAILY NEWS?" (a testament to the fact that not having said "WHIPLASH" prevented Frodo from cashing in on the biggest lottery of them all).
The Kennedy's took that despicable little tabloid as long as I, Frodo, bore the route. I was,indeed, the Kennedy paperboy.
The story is told this day because it is personal, as is the end of that, which was Camelot.

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Great one, Frodo!

If anyone else has personal memories of the Kennedy family that have not made the history books, please let us know about them


Tom Degan

At 11:26 AM, Anonymous bbj said...

Thanks to BJ for sending me the link to your blog. This is a beautiful tribute to Senator Kennedy, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a Washington reception years ago. This "meeting" was only a brief hello/handshake, but the graciousness and kindness of the Senator was something I'll always remember. God bless him for his years of unselfish service to this country. ~ bbj in Mississippi

At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is the link from my post.

Harry from Mass

At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said... must have removed my post...
It's funny how Mission Hill in Boston gets cleaned up now. Where was Ted K for the last 47 years? "Mumbles" Menino is too busy learning English, Deval "O-Shit Jr" Patrick is too busy giving tax breaks for Hollywood to come to Mass and countless African American representatives are too busy taking bribes (Diane Wilkinson stuffing cash in her DD's is a hoot)instead of helping their own. All liberal nutties by the way.

Lets see what O-Shit has to sell in his eulogy. No doubt he will use Ted K's death as selling point for something the majority of Americans don't want. Mr. O-Shit, when will the "Cash for Dignity" program begin?

In closing...Gov. Huckabee said it best the other day. Under the health-care plan proposed by Pres O-shit, Ted K would have been told to “go home to take pain pills and die” after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Harry from Mass

At 12:37 PM, Anonymous Tim (Random Observations) said...

First, I want to thank Tom for his kind words. I half expected the comment to be deleted. Kudos. And, again, my sympathies to all who feel they've lost a leader. I know where you're coming from and how you feel, even if I respectfully disagree about his impact.

Second, I want to strongly disagree with the rather disgusting tone of the previous commenter, "Harry from Mass." Shame on you! You're a guest here, and you're the most crude voice on this thread. You think that's going to reflect well on your (and my!) cause?

You make a valid point (especially given that Democratic Senators are refusing any suggestion they use the "public option") but you completely lose it by substituting an obscenity for the president's name. If you liked the way Huckabee said it, then also note that he had the sense not to bury it in crude language and personal vitriol.

Especially on a thread mourning the passing of a person beloved by those posting here. Very tacky. You're behaving like the kind of person "progressives" would love to frame your side as being. Think seriously about your impact.

And best to you anyway.

At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim, thanks for the feedback.

The only reason that I came back on the site was to credit the Pres on the eulogy.

May Ted K RIP.

However, I can't take anything else back.

Enjoy your weekend Tom Degan

Harry from Mass

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At 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We are fortunate that Teddy spent all of those years in the senate, fighting the good fight for the not-so-fortunate"

He fought for what he believed in, but it was not the "not so fortunate". In fact, he sometimes fought against these people. For example, he was passionately in favor of infanticide. He did, however, fight for the rich, powerful and privileged. This is shown in how he favored increasing taxes and expanding the size and power of government.

At 12:48 AM, Blogger JamaGenie said...

What a marvelous tribute to a man who surprised us all!

It should come as no surprise, though, that EMK ran such a lackluster campaign for president, and only blossomed afterward in the Senate. If one of your brothers had been assassinated while in holding the highest office in the land, and another while seeking the same office, would *you* want to run the risk of winning and suffer the same fate? Once the pressure to occupy the Oval Office lifted, Teddy was finally free to be the only thing he ever wanted to be, Senator from Massachusetts. And what a great senator he was.

He will be missed.

At 12:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


At 4:46 PM, Blogger Pauli said...

Truly a giant of a man.

At 5:01 PM, Blogger Rebecca said...

What a beautiful, eloquently written tribute to a wonderful human being and massively important public figure in our lifetime.

It breaks my heart that the good Senator - our country's last great Statesman - will not be around to see his lifetime work of ensuring Health Care for All come to fruition.

Thanks for visiting my blog Tom, and come back anytime! I'm having fun looking around yours. :)

All the Best,


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