Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Ted Kennedy and "The Rascal King"
I suppose I should be sadder than I am over the passing of Ted Kennedy. He wasn't the martyred saint of my childhood the way his bothers were. He was, happily, able to live out a full span of year and die an old man in his bed, not in the back seat of a car in Dallas or on the floor of a hotel kitchen in L.A. It may be because his death was not appalling or horrific. Ted didn't seem to touch me the way his brothers did (though Bobby seemed rather a shit). With all the health care chazerei in the press these days it will be both sobering and useful to become better informed about his decade long fight for health care. The remarks today insist Ted Kennedy was comfortable with everyone and worked hard to improve the lives of minimum wage workers. That is ringing true. But by the time I was old enough to take it in, Chappaquiddick had happened and his reputation never really recovered. Not among the Boston Irish politicos I called family forty years ago. Smarter, savvier people you'll never meet, with a low tolerance for bullshit (they called it 'blarney' in those more genteel days!) unless they were slinging it themselves (and oh, boy...). It does seems Ted earned his rest after a long career helping others. There were bumps along the way, but who among us hasn't sinned?
I don't know why I've been thinking so much of a contemporary of Ted's parents, the raffish James Michael Curley (1874-1958) the oft elected Mayor of Boston and Governor of Massachusetts, one of whose favorite mantras was "Vote early and often!" Not for our James clean electioneering. Your grandmother and all her lady friends would be casting their ballots for "James Michael" in every election in spite of the fact that Grammie and the ladies had long since called Gate of Heaven Cemetery home. You didn't have to alive to vote for James Michael Curley! There were shamrocks cut into the expensive shutters of his white brick palazzo in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Run against him? Rose Kennedy's father tried it. At the same time the hapless Mayor Fitzgerald was rumored to be enjoying the charms of one Toodles Callahan, a hat check girl in a downtown boite. James Michael, a fabulous public speaker with no shame announced he was giving a series of lectures in history at the Boston Public Library, the first to be called "Great Love Affairs From Cleopatra to Toodles." You could love a guy like that.
Ted Kennedy learned shame and humility with horribly difficult lessons that left one woman dead. He was successful is restoring dignity to his life. Today, with his passing, the newspapers don't ignore Chappaquiddick and the aged frat boy bouts, but they give plenty of space, top of the fold, to decades of selflessness and public service as well. As it should be.