Godspeed, Teddy

At the 1980 Democratic Convention, Senator Kennedy concluded his speech to the floor.

For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end.

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

Those words as fitting today as they were then. For the third time in my life my family paused to say farewell to a Kennedy. It’s quite possibly the last time I’ll feel duty bound to do so for a politician.

The senator passed away with healthcare again at center stage. Kennedy declared access to healthcare for all Americans his life’s work. It’s horrible that the debate has descended to such vitriolic depths. Shouting drowns reason. Fear mongering stalls compromise.

It would be easy to say that politics today are more polarized than ever before, but it would be false. This is a country where tar and feathers were used against those who disagreed with the mob during the days of its inception. This is a country that’s bloodiest war was against itself. How many were beaten or killed in the cause of civil rights? I came of age in this country watching us tear ourselves apart over the Vietnam War. My kids see the most hateful signs directed at gay citizens. Signs using God’s name to justify hatred.

It would be easy to say that journalism is at its lowest point in our history, but that would be false too. Federalists such as Adams and Hamilton were accused in the penny press of trying to reinstate a monarchy. Hearst was instrumental in goading Americans into the Spanish American War. Today’s AM radio big mouths and cable TV squawkers are simply part of the American journalistic tradition.

The words of John, Robert, and Edward Kennedy still stir the heart. Why do we let the words of Limbaugh, Hannity, and Olberman stir the flames? Why do Americans believe the crap they peddle? Perhaps the Economist was onto something in an August 20 editorial.

Belief in conspiracy theories can be comforting. If everything that goes wrong is the fault of a secret cabal, that relieves you of the tedious necessity of trying to understand how a complex world really works. And you can feel smug that you are smart enough to “see through” the official version of events. But widespread paranoia has drawbacks. For a start, it makes calm, rational debate rather tricky. How can you discuss the trade-offs of health-care reform, for example, with someone who thinks the government is plotting to kill grandma? It does not help, either, that politicians on both sides are willing to fan the flames. Sarah Palin calls Mr Obama’s health-care proposals “evil”. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, calls the protesters who loudly oppose them “evil-mongers”. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, calls them “un-American”.

It concludes:

Politicians should tone down the rhetoric. Protesters should read some history before making Hitler comparisons. Talk-show hosts should stop pretending that paranoid nitwits are asking reasonable questions. If people are continually told that their government is plotting against them, a few may decide to fight back. And as Lee Harvey Oswald showed, even one man with a violent sense of grievance can do a lot of harm.

If Orrin Hatch and John McCain could work with, respect, and even come to love a political opponent like Ted Kennedy, don’t you think average Americans could do the same?

One Thought on “Godspeed, Teddy

  1. Mukund on August 30, 2009 at 6:56 am said:

    Excellent post, Frank – you couldn’t have captured the thoughts of the masses more succinctly, yet clarify what is hounding today’s society, in the same breath. I think it all comes down to an inner sense of trust – friend or foe. As I listened to the televised speeches by fellow senators at the JFK Presidential library, the thing that came out was the respect Ted’s opponents had for him and that came from trust.

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