Honoring Kennedy

Jake McIntyre at Daily Kos has a very important post that should help shape how we as a country think of Ted Kennedy’s memory and how we seek to honor his life’s work in coming days and years. The emphasis should be on passing legislation on the three areas Kennedy most championed over his career, the Teddy Trilogy: healthcare, labor, and immigration. McIntyre says it is not possible to honor Kennedy and oppose universal healthcare, giving all Americans the right to organize in their workplace, and pass comprehensive immigration reform that is just and fair.

More importantly, I like McIntyre’s take on framing how we must have a political memory of Ted Kennedy. He was a true liberal leader and he must be honored as such; his memory cannot be sanitized by Republicans seeking to diminish the political philosophy he fought tirelessly for until his final day.

When Paul Wellstone died they told us that we couldn’t celebrate him him as a political actor, that to do so would be crass and opportunistic. But the entire reason we knew Paul Wellstone, the reason we were crushed by his passing, was his political activism. It would have been a lie not to celebrate that legacy. It would have been crass to act as if Paul Wellstone hadn’t been first and foremost a progressive hero, to feign nonchalance over political concerns as we eulogized the man, and in so doing stripping him of his essence. Likewise, it would be a lie today to pretend that the reason we loved Ted Kennedy had nothing to do with his leadership for working people. And it would be crass to attempt to celebrate him with mere words, rather than the action he demanded from us in life. How can we not “politicize” his legacy? The man was who he was because of his wholehearted commitment to his politics. The real obscenity — the real opportunism — would be for his political opponents to now try and depoliticize a quintessentially political life.

This is actually reminiscent of a line from Senator Patrick Leahy’s statement yesterday on Kennedy’s death.

The powerful have never lacked champions. Ted Kennedy was a champion for ordinary Americans and for those who struggle. He believed everyone in this great land deserves the opportunity to pursue the American Dream.

Kennedy’s greatness was in no small driven by his moral commitment to helping those who were without privilege, without defender. That he came from one of America’s most successful families only underscores his commitment to public service to help preserve the American Dream for everyone. His life-long pursuit of service in honor of those who had less than him, even after his family had paid in blood three brothers to that cause, is a testament to his commitment to his beliefs.

Members of Congress, especially Democratic ones, need to honor Ted Kennedy’s lifetime of service by pressing forward with truly progressive legislation in the areas of healthcare, labor, and immigration. We need healthcare reform that includes major regulation of the insurance industry and Kennedy Insurance (formerly known as the public option). We need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, so America’s workers can come together to make their lives better. And we need comprehensive immigration reform that will ensure our country continues to be a melting pot for people who seek to realize the American Dream and work to have a better future. These are all goals that speak to the beliefs, efforts, and principles that defined Ted Kennedy’s life. To pursue these is to honor Senator Kennedy. But to fail to achieve these is to do disservice to his memory.

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