In the wake of Sen. Ted Kennedy's death, I think the one thing that unified Americans in their appreciation and affection for the Kennedys and Teddy in particular perhaps was that, after putting aside the family's vast wealth, they lived and died just like the rest of us. And in that lesson is the painful reality that money can't buy love, health or happiness, or prevent unfathomable horror.
To be sure, the Kennedy clan is America's version of royalty, complete with the queen-like figure in the late matriarchal Rose. But just like Great Britain's royal family, this Camelot had more than its fair share of dysfunction and tragedy. The Kennedy Curse, as it's known.
The Kennedys are no stranger to alcoholism, drug addiction, DWI's, adultery, cancer, amputations (Ted Jr), stillborn and premature infant death (Arabella, Patrick), plane crashes (Joseph Jr., Kathleen, Ted, John)) accidental death (John Jr), murder (John and Bobby) and scandal (Ted's Mary Jo Kopechne Chappaquiddick drowning; William Smith's Palm Beach rape charge; Michael Skakel's murder conviction). They're a living, breathing soap opera. But America loves a good soap opera.
And all of this melodrama was part of the same initial appeal George W. Bush had with voters. The "he's just like us" factor. It's why people like John McCain, John Kerry and Mitt Romney fail to catch on nationally with voters in the same way. Looking past their vast wealth, there is nothing seemingly humble about their beginnings or the lives that followed. They are largely viewed as privileged, lacking that same connection that the Kennedys made with the common man. Will we ever forget the heartbreaking images of Americans of all ages, religions and races sobbing in grief at the tragic losses of John, Bobby and John Jr. as if these iconic figures were part of their own families?
As the proverb goes, some people are born on 3rd base and think they've hit a triple. The Kennedys always knew they were born there, but never forgot that most everyone else hadn't been. They dedicated their lives to public service, trying to help the little guy reach 3rd even knowing that, no matter how fast he ran, he'd still never hit that triple.
Ted Kennedy's contribution to American culture and society can be seen in virtually every historic issue fought in modern American politics, including health care, social security and medicare, minimum wages, education, immigration, aid for senior citizens, civil rights, voter's rights, women's rights, gay rights and human rights. And he accomplished all this as a gentleman and a respected bi-partisan leader, with civility, graciousness and humor. A larger-than-life Washington character. Sadly, there's no one to step in and fill his shoes....on either side of the aisle.
Ted Kennedy's legacy, and that of his family, is abundantly clear. But more importantly, so are the many reasons he was loved and cherished by so many as a true national treasure.
RIP, Liberal Lion.
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