I started my academic career at Brandeis
University just outside Boston, Ted Kennedy was in the Senate, but had established little fame.
Twenty years later, I came back to Boston, or rather Cambridge, as a Fellow at the
at Harvard and then, Ted was becoming a legend for standing up to
Ronald Reagan’s attempt to roll back the clock on the Civil Rights
those years I paid a great deal of attention to his leadership.
His speeches on the floor of the Senate became the place where he
trained his unbridled anger at those who would seek to block children’s
health care legislation, or the minimum wage for the poor, or funding
for Title 9 that supported female sports in school, or discrimination
against the elderly or those with physical handicaps. Yes, he did
roar: pointing his finger at his adversaries, turning red as he
pounded his lectern, generally raising hell as an unrepentant Liberal.
Who would do this today?
have become so divided ideologically that media analysts highlight
Ted Kennedy Liberalism (big L), as if to follow the common practice
of landing him in a pigeon-hole of long-forgotten politics. But
where did we lose the Founders’ conception of the great American
experiment as a partly liberal one, not only mixing the population
with those from other lands, but affording them a unique notion
of progress – the opportunity for inclusion in a dynamic society
where change, invention and growth were the norm?
the structure of government that was created had liberal aspects:
one without royalty, with checks and balances on the use of power
by government, with a mandate written in the Constitution to take
care of the “general welfare,” with a theme that “all men are created
equal,” and the establishment of Constitutional rights to make it
real. We have expanded that structure to both representative and
the recent denigration of Liberalism devalues the citizenship of
Blacks, most Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans and many whites
who are Democrats, since the ideological divide is now the dominant
characteristic of the two main political parties; Republicans are
mostly white and conservative and Democrats are mostly moderates
(afraid to use the term “Liberal”).
are at a serious divide in America
where a substantial segment of the population dislikes Liberal government
– or at least dislikes the fact that government does not behave
in ways of which they would approve. Republican conservatism manifests
itself as an opposition to government policies, while Democrats
still believe in a positive role for government.
problem here, as someone who studies government, is that I cannot
think of a civilization or country that achieved greatness in the
long run where most of the people hated their government. They usually
ended up in a civil war until one faction overthrew the other forcibly.
And although the American system of politics uses elections to affect
a change in government when one faction is large enough to do so,
what happens if radical dissidents view the electoral system as
an insufficient tool for change? They start strapping on weapons
to intimidate change as they are doing now at town hall meetings.
conservatives would argue that Ronald Reagan did great deal for
the country. Actually he accomplished very little to move the country
forward, his legacy was to reverse social progress. His party felt
that people should take care of themselves and government should
take care of their money and fight wars against those whom they
consider enemies abroad. By contrast, the generosity of the spirit,
common of Ted Kennedy, allowed government to care for the least
well-off in society and include them in a modern notion of a progressive
democracy. His liberalism was mostly right about the big issues
of our day.
current health care debate is a massive referendum on the Dr. King/Kennedy
legacy and whether the current temper of the American spirit contains
the substantive values that will allow the country to move forward
again. People are correct that perhaps the death of Ted Kennedy
is the end of an era, but it raises the monumental question of where
are we headed. For President Obama, who has inherited the Kennedy
mantle of leadership, Liberalism is a historically accurate destination.
Any BlackCommentator.com article may
be re-printed so long as it is re-printed in its entirety and full
credit given to the author and www.BlackCommentator.com. If the
re-print is on the Internet we additionally request a link back
to the original piece on our Website.
Your comments are always welcome.
eMail re-print notice
If you send us an eMail message
we may publish all or part of it, unless you tell us it
is not for publication. You may also request that we withhold
Thank you very much for your readership.
Your comments are always welcome.
3 , 2009
published every Thursday
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Est. April 5, 2002
Printer Friendly Version
in resizeable plain
text format or pdf