The newspapers today are filled with tributes to U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy who passed away yesterday. It’s hard to believe one could serve for 46 years in the U.S. Senate (well, Robert Byrd can believe it). That is a more than a lifetime for some of us. Nearly every national Democratic initiative over the past two generations had his fingerprints on it.
The legacy of Ted Kennedy himself is secure as one of the great American legislators, akin to a Henry Clay or Daniel Webster. The legacy of the “Kennedy” family brand is more complicated.
In my parents’ lifetime, the election of John F. Kennedy as President was a seminal event — a younger generation taking control of a nation’s destiny. The life and death of Robert F. Kennedy was on the same historic arc. He had a vision for the nation that was bigger and broader than it had been.
My siblings and I came of age in a different era, perhaps more cynical. The brand name “Kennedy” did not have the same magic. Those who tried to capitalize politically on that name in the last ten years have largely failed. Political dynasties do not last forever in this country and that’s a good thing.
No matter. Ted Kennedy was able to span both eras, literally. He was there when “liberalism” was all the rage. And he was there when it was hopelessly out of fashion. Either way, he fought the good fight. He finished the race. He kept the faith.