Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The War Horse

I watched the 2008 Democratic Party National Convention coverage last night on C-SPAN. I actually enjoyed things much better than if I had to endure those awful talking heads in between and over the "less important" speakers on network television. C-span just let the cameras roll, and that was nice.

I was horrified by what a terrible public speaker Nancy Pelosi is, or seems to be. Maybe it was the teleprompters giving her a hard time.

And then I was touched and amazed by Caroline Kennedy and the tribute to her uncle Ted. I saw Maria Shriver (attending without her governator husband) wipe away tears several times. And Ted. God bless Ted. He's an old scoundrel and a scamp, but dammit he is the best there is when it comes to health care and progressive issues. He was the only one there last night to say "gay". He is apologetically liberal, and like his brothers before him, has never drawn a paycheck for his years in the Senate (they have all turned them over to charity. The Kennedys get into politics to serve, not to be served.) I just hope he lives long enough to see health care for all happen. I watched his last convention speech this evening and cried all the way through. I saw Caroline and Maria cry too, so I was not alone.

I could write lots of stuff here to make it look like I have done research into the history of Ted and the rest of the Kennedy clan, but I won't. (Here's the Wikki page if you really want to know that stuff.)

This is what I know: Ted has been a United States Senator from Massachusetts since before I was born. The other two brothers, Jack and Bobby, were killed before I was born. All three brothers, like all men in the clan, got into trouble, were renowned for womanizing and drinking hard and living fast. And they all understood the advantages of their birth, and they all went into public service. And they all, save Ted, died much, much too young. I grew up partly in Eastern Massachusetts, where families in my town often had two portraits on the wall in the formal parlor: one of the current pope in Rome, and the other of "our dear Jack." I was steeped in the Kennedy legend before I ever understood the first thing about politics.

Ted has been a champion of the poor, of the working people, of women and minorities and gay men and lesbians. He understands that health care ought not to be a privilege reserved only for the wealthy, but a birthright of all people who belong to this country. All my life growing up, I heard that America was the best, the biggest, the strongest, the wealthiest, that we had the smartest scientists and the brightest people making laws and enforcing them - in short that we were superior in every way to other nations. Only now our infant mortality rate rivals that of some third world countries. We have more people living in poverty than ever before. Illiteracy is on the rise. Our roads and bridges are crumbling. All of the things that made us so great - all of the ideals and programs instituted in the 20th century through the New Deal and beyond, have been stripped away, one at a time and now we are beginning to see the results.

I hope that Ted lives long enough to see the pendulum begin to swing back in his direction. I hope that he gets a chance to vote on universal heath care that will be meaningful. I hope that he gets to vote on a roads and bridges project that will rebuild our infrastructure. I hope he lives long enough to vote on a bill to create and maintain really useful public transportation. I would love to see him live long enough to serve a few years on the Supreme Court, should he ever decide to retire from the Senate.

I don't know that he will, though. There is a part of me that fears that he will not live to see Obama's inauguration. And that part of me has a hole in it. I cannot imagine a Senate without Ted, and I am sure there are plenty of Senators who feel the same way. I watched him last night and I watched after his speech was over how Caroline and his kids and his wife all gathered around in what looked like a warm greeting and tribute. But I saw that Vicky had to guide him, that he looked lost until he heard Caroline's voice steering him first around the stage and then away from it. A friend has wondered aloud if he might be blind due to the effects of the tumor and the surgery, and I can see how she might think that. He had the look of a blind man last night - looking in almost the right direction, reaching out and grasping for the microphone at the podium to get his bearings, and that fleeting look of fear when he couldn't quite tell which direction to go next. Then Caroline and Vicky were there and the million-watt smile returned and he waved and grinned and was Ted again and not the scared old man who was lost and could not see.

I would dearly like to think that I have not just watched Ted's last appearance at a Democratic National Convention, but I fear I have. I sat on my couch in Otter Creek, Maine and let the tears flow down my face. There isn't a lot I let make me cry anymore, but the sadness I felt watching an old war horse stomp around one last time, and watching those around him protect him from harm and the love and respect showed him by the communities closest to his heart (his family and his Senate and his party) just filled me to overflowing.

Here's a link to the AP story of his appearance. I can't seem to make a good picture come through.

More thoughts later, I think. Work for now.

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