Saturday, August 29, 2009
"A Full And Complete Life"
In the days approaching Saturday's funeral mass for Sen. Ted Kennedy, there was much discussion as to how much actual politics would be in evidence. In particular, there was the question as to how much contemporary politics would intrude -- and whether President Obama's eulogy in particular would touch upon today's raging health care debate.
In the end, the contemporary was put aside in favor of values and lessons more enduring. And while politics made up a fair portion of the funeral service, it was a genuflection towards a certain kind of politics.
It's only appropriate considering who was being remembered: After all, even as a memorial service is, by definition, a personal event. when the departed is arguably the most significant legislator of his time and towering patriarch of the nation's preeminent political family, how could politics be completely ignored? Coming through in the words this day was a very strong message: Politics can be lived with both a lower-case and a capital "P." Ted Kennedy was a practicioner and participant of the capital-P sort of politics: One had to be to get elected and often to survive the rough and tumble of the ongoing electoral and legislative process.
But it was in lower-case "P" politics that Kennedy became a master. The two forms are inextricably linked. But the small-P variety is that which requires the soft-touch, the ability to see beyond partisanship, beyond one's own personal principles and into a broader humanity that can help accomplish things -- help make over 300 pieces of legislation become law. That was evident and most strongly emphasized in several eulogies tonight. Perhaps it was the saddest responsibility that fell to Kennedy -- to be so often the Official Eulogizer of the Kennedy Clan -- that forced him to embrace skills appropriate to master the small-P politics. Indeed, President Obama seemed to link those two aspects of Kennedy's life:
This spirit of resilience and good humor would see Ted Kennedy through more pain and tragedy than most of us will ever know. He lost two siblings by the age of sixteen. He saw two more taken violently from the country that loved them. He said goodbye to his beloved sister, Eunice, in the final days of his own life. He narrowly survived a plane crash, watched two children struggle with cancer, buried three nephews, and experienced personal failings and setbacks in the most public way possible.
It is a string of events that would have broken a lesser man. And it would have been easy for Teddy to let himself become bitter and hardened; to surrender to self-pity and regret; to retreat from public life and live out his years in peaceful quiet. No one would have blamed him for that.
But that was not Ted Kennedy. As he told us, "(I)ndividual faults and frailties are no excuse to give in — and no exemption from the common obligation to give of ourselves."
Obamat noted that that sentiment arose from Kennedy's rising from an earlier time:
He was a product of an age when the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of party and philosophy from becoming barriers to cooperation and mutual respect — a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots.
And that's how Ted Kennedy became the greatest legislator of our time. He did it by hewing to principle, but also by seeking compromise and common cause — not through dealmaking and horse-trading alone, but through friendship, and kindness, and humor.
Again, hard work was certainlly necessary to get legislation passed, but it was a sense of humanity and a common touch that ultimately got deals made. Standing there as the emissary from the American people thanking a public servant for his years of service, Obama shared a lesson on life at a person's death.
It was the perfect complement to the stirring, tear-inducing eulogy given by Teddy Kennedy Jr., who stepped into his father's big shoes as the Family Eulogizer. His younger brother, Patrick, is the one who went into the "family business," but he's the one who clearly produced an address that reflected the family's potent mix of personal remembrance, salute to public service and a mixture of wit and sentiment that verged on poetry.
He introduced himself as "Teddy Kennedy, Jr. -- a name I share with my son, a name I shared with my father. Although it hasn’t been easy at times to live with this name, I’ve never been more proud of it than I am today."
He shared a tear-inducing anecdote (indeed, he broke down as he told it) of when he was gettiing used to having to walk with an artificial leg after he lost his real one to cancer: "My father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable, and that is — it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father’s greatest lessons." Again, that was the same message Obama gave -- perseverance through pain and loss brings great accomplishment. It enables one to live what Teddy Jr. called "a full and complete life."
In that regard, even as the late senator's politics were saluted by Kennedy Jr. (calling his father, "a proud member of the Democratic Party") and Obama ("the soul of the Democratic Party"), the themes of this funeral ended up being being remarkably non-partisan. They were lessons for all Americans -- faith, hard work, familial bonds, the attentiveness of a father and loving patriarch, a man of principle warmly respected and loved even by those with whom he could disagree.
These life lessons were gifts that Ted Kennedy gave his family as father, uncle, grandfather and general patriarch (a role thrust upon him at the age of 36) and they were gifts that the Kennedy family gave to their country over the better part of a century. And the nation got to hear those lessons one final time foday.
But, being a political family, the Kennedys smartly did not let the issue of health-care -- or Ted's passion for it -- go overlooked. As part of the Catholic Mass' intercessions of the faithful, the offerings were presented by quoting or paraphrasing many of Kennedy's own statements over the years. Coming out of the mouths of one of the youngest Kennedys, Max Allen, his daughter Kara's son, were these words:. "For what my grandpa called the cause of his life, as he said so often, in every part of this land, that every American will have decent quality health care, as a fundamental right, and not a privilege, we pray to the Lord."
It was a nice way of recognizing both the "cause of [Kennedy's] life," but also his "life's work" -- politics big and small -- in a muted, respectable manner.
The question for the Democratic Party -- especially President Obama upon whom Ted Kennedy did his best to pass on the Kennedy torch -- is whether the small-P politics which the Senate lion mastered can be absorbed by a new generation.
Labels: Ted Kennedy
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Bill Gets Off (No, Not That Bill!)
It seems like forever ago, but New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was President Obama's first choice to be commerce secretary. After being nominated in December, he abruptly withdrew a month later when news broke that the there was a federal probe into charges of pay-to-play involving New Mexico officials and companies bidding on state contracts.
Richardson said that he did nothing wrong, but thought it appropriate to take his name out of consideration rather than prove a distraction (Obama then went on to pick Republican Sen. Judd Gregg for the post; he accepted then withdrew when he realized he was, well, a Republican; third time was the charm with the selection of the currently-serving Gary Locke).
Well, now, all of a sudden, comes word that -- POOF! -- Richardson and his staff are in the clear! No one in his office will be facing any indictments. Conveniently enough, this was announced while the governor happens to be on a trade mission to Cuba -- so he's unavailable for comment.
What makes the news even more mysterious is that it was not a case that the convened grand jury chose not to return any charges. No, rather:
The decision not to pursue indictments was made by top Justice Department officials, according to a person familiar with the investigation, who asked not to be identified because federal officials had not disclosed results of the probe.
"It's over. There's nothing. It was killed in Washington," the person told The Associated Press.
Now, there's an interesting use of language -- "top Justice Department officials." That specifically points to political-appointee types -- not career "civil servant" prosecutors -- who chose to "kill" the investigation. Hmmm...
So, the appointees of a Democratic president -- perhaps including the attorney general himself -- chose not to go forward with the prosecution of a Democratic governor and/or his staff. Double "hmmm..."
In the past, such apparent conflicts of interest would create the circumstances for an independent counsel. Of course, both parties allowed the IC law to expire after the perceived excesses of people like Lawrence Walsh (who pursued Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush over Iran-contra) and Ken Starr (who investigated Bill Clinton from Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky).
It goes without saying that, had Richardson taken the Department of Commerce job, it would have been impossible for the Justice Department to just drop the investigation without every political reporter in Washington swooping in like vultures to ask questions. But, with Richardson traveling, the summer doldrums sitting in -- and all political media looking askance at Hyannisport and Boston -- the timing is perfect.
Once everyone starts noticing exactly what happened this week, will the peculiar "Richardson Exoneration" trigger new calls for some sort of outside investigator that would be free of political influence?
Labels: Bill Richardson
Democratic Rush to Judgment Proves Correct
Today Rush Limbaugh yet again crossed the line saying: by the time the debate on President Obama's health care plan is over, "it'll be called the Ted Kennedy Memorial Health Care bill.” It is outrageous to demonize a patriotic Senator who has spent his life fighting so that every person has the opportunity to live the American dream.Now, from Senator Robert Byrd (quote from Ben Smith at the Politico):
Tell Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele to denounce Rush Limbaugh once and for all.
I had hoped and prayed that this day would never come. My heart and soul weeps at the lost of my best friend in the Senate, my beloved friend, Ted Kennedy.Shame on Senator Byrd! How dare he "demonize a patriotic Senator"!
...In his honor and as a tribute to his commitment to his ideals, let us stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilized debate on health care reform which I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American.
Tell Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean to denounce Senator Robert Byrd once and for all.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
His 1980 Democratic National Convention speech was not my earliest political memory. That would have been Nixon campaign commercials and then subsequent Watergate hearings a couple of years later.
However, Kennedy's convention address was the first such political speech that I remember watching and hearing and saying to myself, "Wow! That's amazing stuff." I had followed the campaign. As a kid in high school, my default political temperament at the time was liberal. I had There was little affection for Jimmy Carter. I may not have known that being a journalst would be in my future, but I instinctively knew a good story when one was occurring.
Labels: Ted Kennedy
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Ben there, done that
I don't approve of the Keynesian methods Bernanke uses to run the economy, which were a major factor in our current economic problems. But even IF you buy into his methods, there is one undeniable fact: Bernanke is a criminal.
Bernanke, along with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, used their authority to blackmail Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis into buying Merrill Lynch. There is no law or government regulation that justifies government officials threatening to fire CEO's if they don't buy companies, yet we happily overlook the crime because Bernanke supposedly did a good job running the economy during this crisis. What crime did Bernanke have to commit before we would sit up and take notice? Since when did the Federal Reserve Chairman become immune to criminal prosecution?
Bernanke should be sitting in a jail cell instead of running the Federal Reserve. But under our current "Chicago way" government, misuse of your authority is perfectly acceptable.
In addition to the simple corruption, there is also the stupidity factor. With so many "too big to fail" companies receiving government bailouts, why would we want the country's largest bank to become even BIGGER? So not only is Bernanke corrupt, he is a moron. And we WANT him running the Federal Reserve?
Still don't believe me? Then feel free to explain why a labor leader is qualified to run New York's Federal Reserve? From the Wall Street Journal:
The Federal Reserve chose a labor leader to succeed a former Goldman Sachs executive as the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of New York's private-sector board of directors.
Denis Hughes, president of the New York state branch of the AFL-CIO, had been serving as acting chairman of the New York Fed board since May, when Stephen Friedman stepped down from the position.
If you look at the New York Federal Reserve's website, there is NOTHING in Denis Hughes's biography that makes him qualified to run a bank, let alone help make economic decisions for this country.
But a labor leader makes perfect sense for any powerful position under the "Chicago way" rules. Just as a thug like Ben Bernanke makes perfect sense for an Obama administration that is intent on expanding the power and reach of government. Even if they have to twist a few arms to do it.