Work deadlines have prevented me from watching literally a minute of the Kennedy coverage. I've also read very little, other than Tweets. So I'm sure everything's been said, but I still wanted to add my two cents.
I was a late convert to Ted. As many of you know, I was a Republican for the first 21 years or so of my life. And so I disliked Kennedy purely for ignorant ideological reasons. He was the boogeyman liberal -- the icon of the enemy.
I even saw him once at a Harvard-Yale tailgate, and he wasn't exactly an impressive specimen up close. (I'd like to think that seeing him at the tailgate made me start gradually liking him on some subconscious level).
And even after my long journey from conservative to shrill, the old ideological distaste for Kennedy lingered. I still felt the need to be able to point to someone and say, "well, I've changed but I'm no Ted Kennedy liberal," or some nonsense like that.
In time, I gradually learned more about him. And I can honestly say that, today, I revere him. To me, he embodies everything a progressive politician should be. And I'm ashamed for not recognizing it earlier.
What's most striking about Kennedy is that he dedicated his life to helping people who he had no reason to help. As russell noted in the comments yesterday, he could have had a very nice life yachting, and reading books, and traveling. But he didn't do that. He spent decades in the Senate fighting -- truly fighting -- for people who most needed help, who most needed a voice. Unlike so many legislators, he wasn't the voice of the already-enfranchised. He was, in this sense, a universal Senator for those with no champion, with no lobby. Those people were the focus of his efforts.
I also revere him as a student of politics. On some level, everyone here loves politics, and believes in it. Otherwise, you'd be doing other things with your time. It's easy, though, to wonder at time if it's all futile (see, e.g., David Simon). Revered leaders inevitably disappoint; institutional realities weigh down ideals. And as much as I love politics, it's easy to get down about it.
Kennedy, though, is one of those people who reaffirms my faith in the idea of politics. That idea being that we can choose to fight for the right things, and that our choice can eventually help people. That's what politics should be all about.
Kennedy showed it was possible. Here's a man with unapologetic and uncompromising beliefs, who channeled those beliefs through an extremely arcane legislative process to create laws that truly helped people -- people without a K Street lobby, people who he personally had no reason in the world to be helping. But he helped them anyway.
And it's not just about the dreamy abstract ideals, Kennedy would also rip you one if that's what the politics required. If that's what it took to translate these values into concrete policy. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't really enjoy that part of politics too.
The man had his faults. All of us do. And it's easy to lapse into sentimental hagiography after someone dies. But still, he deserves an enormous amount of praise. His sweat is entwined with the text of every major piece of progressive legislation since the 60s. He chose to fight for things, and, if I may, he got shit done.
And it's heartbreaking that he couldn't live to see the final triumph on health care. And I frankly wouldn't be all that surprised to see him crawl out of his grave to vote "Yea" when the time comes. But if his passing ultimately helps make universal health care a reality, then that would be a quite fitting coda indeed.
Thanks Senator -- if only everyone chose to fight so long and so hard for the right reasons...