Saturday, August 29, 2009

Remembering Sen. Ted Kennedy: Big Sign that friendship and political civility help us all

ROCHESTER, N.Y., Aug. 29 — As the dignitaries, friends, and Kennedy family members gathered today in Boston for the funeral mass of Sen. Ted Kennedy, the liberal lion of the U.S. Senate who died this week, CNN video from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica, prior to the service, reminded the world of what may have been Sen. Kennedy’s greatest quality, not only as a legislator, but as a man: he was a friend.

The scene, as shown through CNN’s camera lenses:

In an empty pew almost an hour before the service, Senate rivals Sen. Chris Dodd, the Democrat from Connecticut, and Sen. John McCain, the Republican from Arizona, deep in discussion, smiles and camaraderie broadcast to the world.

As the service draws nearer, Vice President Joe Biden turns around in his seat, chatting to a smiling former President George W. Bush. Moments later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton sit down beside Bush and his wife, former First Lady Laura Bush. The shot cuts away to the arrival of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, and then back to Hillary and W., turned toward one another, all smiles, chatting away.

The leaders gathered in Boston are, of course, some of the most partisan players in modern American democracy, and Sen. Kennedy long held a place at the same table. The politics of healthcare reform have seized the summer, and they will seek out September, but today, the politicos and partisans pause, remembering and sharing the friendship and civility that Sen. Kennedy brought to the issues, along with his passion.

Coverage throughout the week has noted repeatedly how Sen. Kennedy touched so many lives through his legislation and through his willingness to reach out — to his Senate colleagues across the aisle, to his constituents and average Americans, and even to his enemies.

He was a masterful legislator and politician in large part because he liked and respected his colleagues, regardless of whether they shared his ideology and convictions. Consequently, his fellow senators, the rest of the Washington elite, and many (if not most) Americans liked and respected him, even when they disagreed with him.

Such humanity is sadly too often missing now from the Senate and our harsh, hard-edged politics. But today in Boston, friendship, or at least civility, and a great love for Teddy, rules the day, and I pray that it continues upon the political scene’s return to Washington.

As we go forward, let Teddy’s memory guide our leaders toward legislation to complete what he called the cause of his life, healthcare for all, and other critical legislation, using his lessons of friendship and civility, not as a crutch, but as an inspiration for and engine to drive reform and recognize our collective humanity.

We miss you, Teddy. May you rest in peace.

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