If Ted Kennedy had not died of brain cancer in the summer of 2009, he would have turned 81 today. I wonder what he would think of American politics? What would he think of the Senate? What would he think of the House? What would he think of President Obama?
I keep hearing a phrase of Kennedy’s echoing in the back roads of my memory, the one about Obama being motivated by “better angels.”
And I ask myself whether Barack Obama has lived up to Ted Kennedy’s faith in him.
For it was the “Lion of the Senate” who – more than anyone – sealed the deal for Obama’s primary victory. I’m sure it came as a shock to the Clintons when Kennedy endorsed Obama over Hillary.
But I can understand why the great liberal backed Obama. There was a bright halo of hope surrounding the man who was to become America’s “first black president.”
Who would have thought that young man with the engaging smile would turn out to be a hawk? Who would have thought him capable of keeping a “kill list” and sending drones out to “terminate” people believed to be a threat to America?
I can understand why the president would want to get rid of evildoers who are plotting against his country. I just don’t understand how he could do it. I don’t think Ted Kennedy would have been able to.
Of course killing terrorist leaders is preferable to sending young Americans to be killed or maimed in far-off lands. And of course it is better than killing and maiming thousands of civilians who happen to be in the wrong place when bombs are falling. But there’s something so cold-blooded about targeted assassinations. Besides, who knows whether the information on which the drone attacks are based is always right?
Somehow, that kind of thing doesn’t seem to be motivated by “better angels.”
I suspect it’s motivated by the president’s fear of right-wing critics who would surely accuse him of being “soft on defense” if he acted more humanely.
Ted Kennedy is not around to pass judgment on President Obama, and I can’t imagine what he would think of the president’s foreign policy. But I’m sure he would approve of the president’s state-of-the-union address. The wish list in that speech came straight from those “better angels” that Kennedy talked about.
Perhaps those goals can be attained – some of them, anyway- in the president’s second term.
And Ted Kennedy would surely be pleased by the passage of Obamacare.
Universal health care was Kennedy’s Holy Grail. And it has been – more or less – achieved.
To get the legislation through Congress, so many compromises were made that it doesn’t look to me like the kind of plan Kennedy had in mind. But he was an astute politician and he would surely realize that Obama got what he could in the morass that is now American politics.
The Senate, in which Ted Kennedy served for nearly half a century, has been wrecked by Republicans who routinely use the filibuster to block everything that comes from Obama’s “better angels.” The House is paralyzed by Tea Party zealots doing the bidding of robber barons (whether they know it or not).
And the Supreme Court has unleashed the full power of the Almighty Dollar to corrupt the electoral process.
In this political crazy quilt, Democrats often act like Republicans and Republicans often act like lunatics. It’s not the kind of environment in which “better angels” thrive.
I suppose we will never know what Obama would have done if he had been able to follow his “better angels.”
And that’s the great pity of our age.