I've been down the Jersey shore the past few days and didn't get the news about Ted Kennedy's passing until I was on the road early Wednesday morning.
The first thing I noticed was that even the rightwingers who were either sincerely or not so sincerely lamenting the passing of a "great Senator" and/or "great American" couldn't help but bring up the accident that took the life of Ted Kennedy's car mate that fateful night many decades ago.
Some of them pointed out that no matter how successful Ted Kennedy was in overcoming the loss of two brothers to assassins, and one to war, no matter how much legislation he got passed that led to more of this country's poor people getting a fairer deal in all areas of their lives, and more fairness in general in our society, no matter that to many critics and historians he was now seen as one of the most successful Senators in our country's history, no matter what other travails he overcame, this accident in which he acted badly by not overcoming whatever obstacles presented themselves—whether drunkeness, fear, physical impossibility, mental confusion under stress, etc.—that was a crime so dastardly it should overshadow all else.
I found this not only disappointing, but also as is so often the case, another instance of rightwing hypocrisy and double standards. The fundamentalism that underlies so much of rightwing ideology (though the ultimate ideology is to win power and maintain it at all cost and no matter what the original ideology might have been it can be sacrificed to those two goals) is based on born again Christianity. And the right is always bending over backwards to forgive sinners on their team, and bending over forward to get in our faces about sinners on ours.
When it was revealed that Laura Bush was in a car accident in which someone was killed, the way I heard it her ex-boyfriend who'd been bothering her, there was no outcry on the left and never has been. No liberal I know has ever accused her of maliciously setting out to kill someone or of having such terrible judgement it led to the tragedy etc. It was an accident and as far as I know no elected Democrat or well known "liberal" has ever questioned that fact or waved it under the right's noses.
Her husband was getting arrested for drunk driving and drunken behavior and drug abuse and disorderly conduct and so on from his adolescence up into his forties, which when asked by a reporter when he first ran for president he dismissed as "youthful indiscretions" that should be forgotten since he had since stopped drinking and drugging. As far as I know the question was never raised again, even though he was our first president to have that kind of criminal record on taking office. And as far as I know no Democratic politician has ever made an issue of it, though I wish some of them had, just to point out the hypocrisy in his holier than thou pronouncements as president.
Now, from the reports of the last president's arrests as a young and not-so-young man, it's clear that except for the grace of God or fate or chance or luck or whatever, no one was killed by his drunken behavior, including drunk driving that was reckless and endangered the public. But if anything like that had happened, you think the right would be on his case the way they were and even now continue to be on Teddy Kennedy's?
There are cases where the left, Democrats and public liberals, have ragged for a bit on a rightwinger's transgressions that led or could have led to tragedy. Like Rush's illegal drug use and his exploitation of his employees to keep his habit going, risking jail for them if not for himself because of his powerful connections. (You think a poor black man who did what Rush did, i.e. use illegal drugs and then use an employee to try and obtain them for him through illegal means, would have gotten off with no jail time? Sure.)
And there have been many fundamentalist ministers and Republican politicians who have jeopardized not just their own lives but those of their families through their behavior, and at least publicly, they are always forgiven and if they show any signs of recovery are lauded as sinners who have repented and moved on to greater glory hallelujah. Because the whole Christian story is one of redemption, and they love to tell stories of their own personal redemption, I was blind but now I see. But if it's a liberal or Democrat who has fallen, their perspective on redemption seems to switch immediately to a kick them while their down belief.
Like ted Kennedy, I was the youngest of a large Irish-American family in an even larger Irish-American clan. Unlike them we were never wealthy. But we had some similar family connections and loyalties, and a general devotion to service and fighting for more fairness for those with less. And as the youngest, I acted out in many ways as a young man, and was guilty of lack of judgement that sometimes led to personal tragedy and sometimes that had an impact on others. Nothing so glaringly heartbreaking as the famous accident when the car went off the bridge for Teddy and his companion, but tragic enough.
I am grateful I got the chance to stay alive long enough to try and make amends for those failures of character, as I am glad Teddy Kennedy did too. He ended up helping a lot of people who might otherwise have suffered early deaths or personal tragedies of their own without the work he did tirelessly. You ever been around a Congressman or Senator to witness the hours and effort they put into the job? It's a lot more time and energy consuming than most jobs most people I've known have. And even if it isn't physically heavy lifting, as I know from having worked a wide variety of jobs from many manual labor kinds of hourly wage stuff to heavy duty intellectual efforts and both can be as tiring as basic training in the service.
Teddy never had the amazingly quick wit and intellect of his brother John, nor maybe the kind of physical courage his brother Joe had, nor the power to touch and inspire people that Bobby acquired late in his life. But what he did have, he used almost consistently, with a few tragic exceptions, for the greater good, not his own.
[For a lowkey but accurate tribute check out Silliman's blog here (can't get the specific post so scroll down or look it up)]