Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Politics: Yes, I Voted for Ted Kennedy

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Senator Edward Morris Kennedy died today at the age of 77 after a long fight with cancer. Once upon a time, I voted for Ted Kennedy. I was living in Massachusetts when he ran for re-election in 2000. Unlike 1994, when he faced Mitt Romney, Kennedy did not face significant opposition in 2000, and breezed to his seventh election to the Senate; my vote mattered little. He would be re-elected one more time in 2006.

Why did I vote for Ted Kennedy? Probably his only serious opponent that year was actually Libertarian Carla Howell; the Republican nominee, Jack E. Robinson III deserves an essay just describing his sometimes-pathetic antics. Yet, even if there had been powerful opposition, I would have voted for Kennedy anyway.

It wasn't because I was voting for the Kennedy legacy. Upon moving to Massachusetts, I wondered how often I would run into people that would vote for the senator and his family just because of the past. A few days after my arrival, I did hear a caller to a talk show on WBZ-AM express support "because I just think of everything [Kennedy's mother] Rose has been through and what this family has done for the country," but that was the only time I heard such a thing in eight years of living in the state. In fact, I would say it was far more common for people to disdain the younger Kennedys--but not Ted Kennedy.

People like me voted for Ted Kennedy because he actually did a good job of representing Massachusetts. While other politicians were also instrumental in procuring federal funds, Kennedy played his part in bringing home the bacon on such items as the Big Dig highway construction project or more funding for drug interdiction in Springfield. Even those on the right knew they were getting something from having Kennedy as their representative, and they were not inclined to vote against him.

People also just genuinely liked Ted Kennedy. He would show up at the hospital when ideological opponents were ailing. This underscored one of Kennedy's key traits--he may have been liberal, but he was not partisan (at least by modern standards). He understood how to reach out to all sides to get legislation passed. The list of Republicans that he worked closely with to pass various legislation reads like a who's who list of national Republicans in the post-Reagan era: Bob Dole, Orrin Hatch, John McCain, and even George W. Bush. The biggest symbolism of Kennedy's passing may be that of the death of bi-partisanship, as he was one of the few remaining masters.

I once saw the junior senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry, have a beach ball thrown at his head at an "Earthfest" free concert along the Charles River as he worked his way through the crowd after giving an environmental speech. Nobody would have ever thrown a beach ball at Kennedy, even if they were diametrically opposed to him politically. He was too respected.

Yes, I voted for Ted Kennedy. There will be no more opportunities to vote for him, but one can hope there will be others in the Kennedy tradition to vote for someday. As he was known to say, "The dream shall never die."

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