Felicia Muftic – Sen. Edward Kennedy will be missed
August 30, 2009
Husband Dr. Mike and I were sitting in our home watching the sun rise, drinking our morning coffee and musing over the just-announced passing of Ted Kennedy. The Kennedys have been a part of our political consciousness for most of our adult lives. I put our thoughts in writing.
I first saw him as a blur in the gaggle of Kennedys at the 1960 Democratic convention, when I served on my senator’s staff. When Dr. Mike served for 12 years as a member of the Democratic National committee, we had the opportunity to shake his hand many times on trips to Washington, once even having dinner in his house above the Potomac.
We mourned the tragedies of the Kennedy family and Ted Kennedy’s own personal ones. Some even touched our county. His son Ted Jr., who had lost his leg to cancer, skied in the early days of disabled skiing program in Winter Park. We saw Ted Kennedy rise above it all to become what many are calling him, the greatest senator in our generations.
He has left a large mark on our nation’s history and, to use his brother’s words, he “passed the torch to a new generation.” His endorsement and support of Barack Obama was the future president’s single most important boost in the 2008 campaign. I recall hearing Sen. Kennedy’s response to a question asked by a reporter of why he endorsed Obama: “Because he is the future,” he replied.
He left a mountain of legislation he sponsored, which improved so many lives in this nation and he did it by reaching across the aisle to find common ground and interest. He also did it because he was a personal friend to his colleagues, regardless of their political persuasion or support of legislation he sponsored.
It is the spirit of non-personalization and bipartisanship that is a legacy I fear we will not see revived in our immediate future. There is no leader emerging in Congress with that disposition, skill or stature.
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Instead, recent years have been filled with hateful politics, with leaders “appealing to their base” using demagogic phrases to heat the blood of those filled with fear, loathing, or self-interest, whipped to a frenzy by talk show hosts who are egged on by devotion to their own extreme opinions and audience segment numbers.
The tone of current politics will only grow more harsh without Ted Kennedy as legislation that could benefit millions of Americans will continue to be attacked by those who put political agendas and personal antagonisms above the common good.
The greatest legacy of his career has yet to be realized … health care for all as a right and not as a privilege. It is difficult to see his death without its context in today’s debate over health care reform. If it passes, it will be due to his years of advocacy that defined the goal.
I have been saddened by the e-mails I have received from those who put the debate in terms of doing anything to defeat a president because they do not like him, do not trust, him and who think he will “destroy this country.” Some of those same voices loudly shout down those with whom they disagree, drowning out democracy’s gift: rational discussion. Too many people’s opposition to health care legislation is based not on the merits or need for the legislation but on their personal dislike of the president.
This kind of personalized politics flies in the face of the rational approach to shaping public policy that the Greeks established 500 years before Christ and which the founders of our country drew upon from the Age of Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. It was a faith in the ability of educated people to make rational decisions, to debate and to weigh facts and argument.
Our founding fathers, though, were no fools: They believed in the original sin of those who would demagogue and who would lust for power. They set up a form of government with checks and balances to keep the demagogues and imperial ambitions in check. They also made it a representational democracy. They feared mob rule or in current terms, town hall violence, leaving the technical details to forge legislation in the hands of representative leaders whom they thought had the scope, perspective, and education to make rational decisions.
This puts a burden on our representatives to make decisions that are based on reason, not upon polls or whether such and such a vote will mean defeat or re-election in 2010. It is going to take some with that dedication to do what is good for this country and to be what John F. Kennedy called “a profile in courage.”
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