Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Senator Teddy Kennedy – RIP

When virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma plays his cello to accompany opera star Placido Domingo to sing Panis Angelicus at a funeral, you have to pay attention. Normally dead politicians’ funerals should be avoided by all except for grieving family and close friends – these ceremonies are usually a final gasp of spin; the last hurrah. In the case of Senator Teddy Kennedy the proceedings were all this, but his passing ceremony deserves an extra look.

When Pope John Paul died and went to heaven, he was assigned a simple bunk in a very plain barracks. One morning he rose to the sound from his window of a marching band and shouting, stunning females surrounding an open pink cadillac carrying a recently deceased male politician drinking champaign. The Pope rushed to St. Peter and asked him how it was he, as major figure in the church, received such poor treatment and the politician received such glorious attention. St. Peter replied: We get Popes here all the time, but never politicians.

Uncertain whether Teddy ends up in heaven or hell, but for certain, if I recollect my Roman Catholic catechism, his soul will spend time roasting in purgatory – at least for his more public sins, but I pass on this final judgement to still fruitlessly believing score keepers that will compare and balance his good deeds with his sins.

The myth makers are projecting Teddy as part of a tragic historical family continuum; his three brothers died violently with their boots on. Teddy certainly had to learn from their brutal deaths. He died naturally at 77 and apparently, unlike brothers John and Bobby, as a sensitive family man and compassionate human.

Despite the constant Irish blarney projecting his brother JFK and Bobby as assassinated martyred saints, Teddy had no thirst to end his days that way; after the 1980s Democratic primary against Carter, he gave up as pretender to the throne and settled down for 30 years, to the earnest life of a US senator.

Whereas I regarded JFK as a failed president for his bungling of the Cuban and Berlin crises and never figured out Bobby's contribution to the good of nation, Teddy was just a by product of nepotism. He certainly used family connections, power and money for political promotion, but with time, he transformed himself from just another Kennedy tragic public relations farce, to a person of substance.

Never believed that the Kennedys were the personification of conscience-stricken rich guys giving back to the poor. It was more that they cultivated the poor to beat the WASP politicians at the voting game. The battle was joined early in the 30s when anti-prohibition ethnic Catholics battled and beat the Anglo-Saxon protestants over the sale of booze, and finally repealed prohibition.

Teddy was a determined liberal but was prepared to compromise. He was cynically used by GW Bush in failed attempts to fix immigration, education and pricing pharmaceutical products. He was, however, right on voting against the Iraq war, but in the end, he was part of the failure of the US government to govern wisely, encouraging its exploitation by special interests.

His funeral proceedings were fit for a King attended by US political nobility. It was the first time I had focused on the Boston priesthood since the diocesan sex abuse scandals. The Our Lady of Perpetual Help church was a magnificent setting. The clergy performed their rituals with the dignity expected. But given Teddy's rambunctious life, I expected him to devise a more spectacular exit ceremony.

He was very proud of his Celtic Irish heritage; by all reports he loved the sea and his sailing vessels. So why not a Viking funeral? All that was required was his body on a bark, sent to open sea and set aflame. I would make only one ritual change: I would not include his two wonderful Portuguese Water Dogs on his burning funeral ship to Valhalla. (I must be getting soft.)

I almost never agreed with Teddy's politics and considered his Irish Mafia connections way over the top. But I liked him as a personality and will miss his guts, vibrancy and panache in a sadly torpid US Senate.

My sentiment for Senator Kennedy's demise is best expressed by lines from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Crossing The Bar


Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret.


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