Friday, May 23, 2008

'The last lion' in darkest winter

It’s taken days for the news to sink in: A champion of progressive causes, perhaps the greatest senator in the greatest deliberative body in the history of the world, is suffering an incurable, inoperable disease.

Massachusetts Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy, veteran of the Senate for more than forty-five years, was diagnosed early Tuesday with a malignant brain tumor. The early prognosis, bad enough as it was, got worse a day later when it was announced that the glioma in the left parietal lobe of his brain was inoperable.

Kennedy was released from Massachusetts General Hospital on Wednesday, seemingly none the worse for wear, a small bandage on the back of his head the only sign of something amiss. A Kennedy family statement said that, while at the hospital, the senator had been “walking the floor, antsy to get out and driving the nurses crazy.”

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Since his release from the hospital, Kennedy has been conducting not-so-secret negotiations with his wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, to participate in a much-beloved Kennedy ritual.

“It became evident today where U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy honed his ability to negotiate and compromise: at home during playful disagreements with his wife,” reported David Abel and Andrew Ryan of the Boston Globe on Thursday.

“The subject this afternoon was whether the ailing senator would participate in the annual Figawi regatta, a three-day race from Hyannis Port to Nantucket that begins Saturday.

"'I don’t know,’ Kennedy said when asked about the race by reporters as the couple boarded their 50-foot schooner for an afternoon sail. ‘One day at a time.’"

Thus does Kennedy, whom Republican Sen. John McCain, a longtime legislative antagonist, called “the last lion in the Senate,” announce to the world something we’d have suspected all along: He will not go gentle into his good night.

He is already being praised anew for his place in the Senate, his acceptance of that bully pulpit as the best place from which to change the nation. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, by way of distinguishing Kennedy from other senators noted that “[T]he trouble with so many senators nowadays, they’ve got that dream in their minds of the presidency, so they don’t settle down to that institution.”

Ted Kennedy settled down to that institution, and in doing that he transformed that institution — and this country — in ways he might never have achieved had he been president.

This is not a valedictory, damn it — not yet — but a tribute to one who championed liberalism long before (and regardless of) those who tried to make “liberalism” a dirty word; a get-well message, against all the statistical odds; and a gentle petition to Victoria Kennedy: Once more, turn Teddy loose at the Figawi … once more, let him join the other great ships.
Image credits: Kennedy: Public domain. Kennedy and Obama: Ragesoss, republished under GNU Free Documentation License.

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