Friday, May 23, 2008

Nation's Capital Suffers a Blow to the Heart: Liberal Lion has Cancer

Last weekend, one of the true fixtures of Capitol Hill -- and indisputably the best legislator of his generation -- reminded us all that even the Liberal Lion is, well, mortal. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), the senior-most member of the Senate second only to the perpetual Robert Byrd (D-WV), had a seizure -- and the most powerful city in the world paused.

The denizens of the nation's capital, Republican and Democrat alike -- indeed, people across the nation -- waited anxiously for word, knowing that Teddy's 76 now and it was likely to be more serious than not. And we were right -- a malignant brain tumor in the area of the brain that controls speech. Imagine, Ted Kennedy without a voice. Heartbreaking. Imagine, the Senate and the American people without Ted Kennedy speaking out for the common man, for the people who cannot speak for themselves -- simply unthinkable. Yet suddenly, the idea that Kennedy -- baby brother to Jack and Bobby -- might be silenced sooner rather than later, was forced upon us.

"JFK brought charm and wit to government," said Ronald Steel, a historian and author of a book on Robert Kennedy, "and Bobby is remembered for what might have been, but Ted should be thought of as someone who showed how government could be made to serve the people." Damn straight. Let me just count the laws...well, there is not enough room here, but suffice it to say that every major civil rights, health care, women's rights and education measure of the last four decades has had his fingerprints.

By all reports, Sen. Kennedy is in good spirits. He's a fighter, known for thundering away from his desk -- his brother's desk that he's made all his own -- in the back row of the Senate. He says he'll be back to Capitol Hill soon despite possible radiation and chemotherapy treatments in his future. DC literally held its collective breath this week when the diagnosis came over the wire, and there were honest tears from the crustiest, most conservative men in the Senate. It's not just that action on some critical issues has ground to a stop with his absence -- it's that his very presence reassures the entire institution that compromise and progress is possible.

Compromise, you say? Teddy Kennedy, Mr. Liberal himself? You betcha. If you want a guy to figure it out, to come to a resolution, everyone knows you go to Kennedy. He not only has the agile mind and the brilliant staff to figure out solutions, but he has the political acumen to bring people of all stripes together and do the right thing.

"On numerous occasions," said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), "I have described Ted Kennedy as the last lion in the Senate . . . because he remains the single most effective member . . . if you want to get results."

I'm not exaggerating when I say that reports of his illness caused the world to tilt on its axis for many of us in DC, and I fear the tilt is permanent. The rose-colored blinders are off. I expect him to fight this cancer with his usual tenacity, and I expect him to continue to put his indelible mark on the battles to maintain and advance the civil rights that make this nation great for as long as he is able. But there's no escaping the fact that I've now been forcibly reminded that Ted Kennedy can't be the Liberal Lion forever. And I'm shaken, too, by the realization that while his shoes could never be filled, I don't see anyone even close to Ted Kennedy's measure trailing along behind in his wake.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

No comments: