Death of a Dynast

The end of Camelot's reign.

Sen. Ted Kennedy died this week after a lengthy brain illness and nine terms in the Senate.

There will not be many neutral obituaries published, as Teddy Kennedy was not the sort of person about whom ambivalence was possible.  To America's statists and leftists, he was a pillar of strength, a Founding Father, the Lion of Liberalism.  To the right, he represented all that was destructive and evil about East Coast establishment elites, secure in their own status and confident that they knew what was good for the common people far better than the people themselves could ever know.

It is appropriate for there to be two wildly separate views of the Senator, as he was a man of profound contradictions.  A stalwart defender of so-called "women's rights", particularly the right to unlimited abortion, he treated any nubile young girl who might catch his eye as his own personal property.  An advocate of giveaways for the poor, he lived in a guarded compound befitting a millionaire.

He spent many years fighting to imprison all Americans in a straitjacket of bureaucratized universal national single-payer health care, yet when he himself became ill, he availed himself of the best private doctors money can buy and arranged for them to be paid for by taxpayer dollars.  The original limousine liberal, Ted Kennedy was the perfect archetype of George Orwell's pigs from Animal Farm, proudly proclaiming that "all are equal, but some are more equal than others" - even in matters of life and death, as Mary Jo Kopechne found out too late.

It is almost impossible to look at Ted Kennedy without the view being colored by your own political preferences.  Regardless of your view of Ted Kennedy the man, however, his passing demonstrates a great and essential truth about the American political system: we don't do long-term dynasties.

No American Hereditary Nobility

Which is not to say that ambitious men haven't tried to found them.  The Rockefellers, the du Ponts, the Vanderbilts - these and others amassed untold wealth and tried to set up their descendants to be something like European titled heads who would remain elite for all time to come.  Old Joe Kennedy was perhaps the most successful in translating personal riches into family political power, siring a President, two presidential candidates, Senators, cabinet members, and all manner of lesser office holders.  The name of Kennedy has been a force in politics for the better part of a century.

Now it is waning.  The new generation of Kennedys has struggled to acquire high office; most recently, poor Carolyn Kennedy seemed to have a Senatorial appointment in the bag, until it occurred to some enterprising reporter to ask her just why she wanted the seat.  She couldn't come up with an explanation that even Manhattan liberals would swallow, floundering around in a Guinness-world-record-attempt of repetitive "you know"s.  The closest a Kennedy comes to power these days is sleeping with it, California Governator Schwarzenegger's wife being one; what a change from the days of yore when it was the other way 'round!

The Kennedy trusts are private, so we cannot know just how much money is in there.  It's been half a century since a Kennedy earned more than the lavish but not plutocratic Senatorial salary, though, yet they've been living the life of the jet-set for all that time; it's hard to imagine that the remaining wealth is vast.

If not the current generation, then certainly the next one will be no more than upper middle-class.  By mid-century, the Kennedy name, like that of Vanderbilt and Rockefeller, will be featured mostly in history books and occasionally on the society pages, but not on the front or business pages.

The Circle of Wealth

This, more than anything else, illustrates why the great liberal goals of Ted Kennedy's life were so wrongheaded.  Yes, America has poor people today.  It did last year; it did last decade; it did last century when a young Teddy first assumed his seat in the Senate.  In the main, however, they are different people.

For all the complaints about equality, America still has the most movement between classes of any major nation.  Today's poor can be tomorrow's middle class; today's middle class can be tomorrow's wealthy; and, as with the Kennedys, today's wealthy can just as easily become tomorrow's middle class or even poor.  In America, success is only as permanent as your last victory and failure only as lasting as your latest defeat.

The glory of America and the American dream is not wealth for all; it's not even a comfortable life for all, necessarily, as in the European social democracies.  It is the opportunity of wealth and success for anyone willing to work hard for it.

True, society has a role in making this possible, particularly by promoting education - and it's jarring to see Ted Kennedy as champion of the archaic teachers unions and rotting public school monopolies that keep underprivileged kids trapped in violent, chaotic hellholes which all but doom their inmates to lives of failure.  For all his suport of public school teachers, inner-city combat-zone public schools are certainly nowhere that Kennedy spawn would ever be found in attendance.

This injustice can be fixed, though, and eventually will be fixed one way or another - the percentage of children in home schools and private schools increases every year and all-Democratic inner-city minorities are demanding their right to school choice.

For all that most Congressmen and Senators are re-elected until they die in the saddle like Ted or choose to retire of their own free will, the American voter does not view political office as a possession to be passed on by inheritance.  It's appropriate that even Ted Kennedy himself failed in his attempts to game the succession system.

For many years, Massachusetts law permitted the Governor to appoint a new Senator when one died or resigned.  When it looked like John Kerry might become President, leaving a vacant Senate seat for Republican Governor Mitt Romney to fill with (horror of horrors!) a Republican, Kennedy convinced the overwhelmingly Democrat Massachusetts legislature to change the rules so as to call a special election instead.

Just last week, though, as he felt the Grim Reaper hovering beside his bed, Kennedy called for the rules to be switched back so that the now-Democratic governor could safely and promptly fill the seat with another liberal.  This hypocrisy was too much even for such reliable liberal partisans as the Boston Globe and New York Times.

Now it's too late: the great Ted Kennedy has failed in his last political maneuver, the victim of his own machinations of 2004.  The Democrats no longer hold a veto-proof 60-seat Senate majority, and won't for many months until a special election can provide a replacement Massachusetts senator.

It's a strange sort of justice that Kennedy's own anti-democratic manipulations might wind up destroying the best chance of success his life's goal has ever had - a universal, socialistic national health care system.  Those who believe in karma may see it in this turn of events.

As Ted Kennedy goes to meet his Maker, we who remain should realize that we are seeing not just the end of the great Lion of Liberalism, but the end of the legendary Kennedy clan.

Who will replace them?  Clintons?  Obamas?  Gores? Someone as yet unknown?  We don't know - and in a republican democracy, that's as it should be.

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments
You should have used this as the beginning of Ted's obituary:

And in Hell he lifted up his eyes, and spying Mary Jo Kopechne afar off in Abraham's bosom...
August 26, 2009 10:42 AM
What was interesting to me was that the vast majority of AP-style obits i've read had to include tons of bad stuff about him. They tried laying him down lovingly but COULDN'T. The facts would not allow them to.
August 26, 2009 10:44 AM
That's the think about Ted Kennedy, his life was SO full of debauchery and so devoid of actual accomplishment, that it's impossible to even mention his name without ladling on the sleaze. And of course wherever Chappaquiddick Ted puts in an appearance, the corpse of Mary Jo Kopechne will shortly come bobbing up. Legacy? Ha!

If Ted Kennedy is the "Liberal Lion", the best the liberals can produce, that says something awfully condemning about liberalism itself.
August 26, 2009 11:10 AM
Epitaph for Ted Kennedy:
August 26, 2009 12:50 PM
The only way for a family to stay wealthy in America is to have each member of the family contribute at least as much as they take out. Most wealthy families are hard pressed to raise their children in a manner that will encourage a sense of self responsibility. Without self responsibility it is impossible for children to grow up into self sustaining adults.

Which is, of course, why most children of wealthy people are so aggressively liberal. They can't imagine how they could ever take care of themselves, so of course, they can't imagine how anyone else could take care of themselves either.
August 26, 2009 1:28 PM
Thank you, Hobbes, for a breath of fresh air in the stench funereal roses.
August 26, 2009 8:53 PM
Interesting how Mr. Kennedy, a key judiciary committee member, evaded justice for most of his life. A career such as his makes me yearn for term limits. The fact that people kept on re-electing him says something about the IQ of his Massachusetts patrons or the brokenness of our system.
August 27, 2009 10:02 AM
@Joshua Quarry: Its not the IQ nor a broken system, its broken method in which humans think.

Although the article as a whole is interesting the two sections that directly apply here are:

Dishonest politicians! Never!
Addicted to self deceit

In short people refuse to believe anything negative about politicians they like. People simply experience an emotional reaction to negative news about people they like instead of actually looking at the facts presented to them.
August 28, 2009 8:13 AM
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