Well, it should come as a surprise to nobody that Teddy K does go on.
At the Arlington graveside the retired Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, D.C., last seen trying to throw his arms around Tim Russert’s handsome son at that pleasant nonentitiy’s obsequies, was apparently ‘authorized’ to reveal the contents of that letter Teddy had Obama deliver to the Pope and the Pope’s reply; the confusion of many things – such as mistaking a rather senior government employee for a postman – is characteristic of Teddy’s general approach to stuff, and – truth be told – has served him well all along. The Dream goeth on.
In the letter, no doubt intended for eventual public consumption, the finally-cornered lion asks for prayers – a charming last-ditch effort to run the old post-Chappaquiddick play of fixing the judge, although in this case a Judge not known for being ‘reachable’ (in the mob argot) or ‘fixable’ (in the political argot) or ‘reliable’ (in Identity Politics argot). Hey, it worked quite well forty years ago. Exactly forty years ago. Forty Biblical years ago.
But all Catholics can ask for prayers, as a reliable theology-spouting priest at Boston College piously bleated, backed up by a comrade at Notre Dame. Which is true, if hardly an adequate commentary on the thing.
They can also confess, but that’s not a Kennedy thing.
Teddy wants to make sure that the Pope and the world (especially the “admiring bog” of celebrity-, grief-, and sentimentality-sloshed American public opinion) gets the Correct impression.
Teddy, ya see, has really been all about wanting to “give a voice to those who were not heard, to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity, to make real the dream of our founding” (to use Obama’s words). Or, in his own words to the Pope, “I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I’ve worked to welcome the immigrant, fight discrimination, and expand access to health care and education”.
Of course, there’s so much code in that text that it has to be run through the Ultra decoding machinery to actually get to the Enigma spun by the wording.
That “opportunity” included the full embrace of Identity Politics, which deliberately divided the Citizenry into fractured shards, one against another, and each of whose agendas worked toward incompatible goals with the overall result of shattering any sense of an American identity which might ground and support The People as they made their torturous pilgrim way through the increasingly fraught decades of the post-Sixties era.
“The rights of the poor” somehow ended up creating a monstrous entitlement state (even as the desires of the corporationist state demanded the undermining of the New Deal ‘American worker’ and ultimately undermining the very foundations of a productive and capable national economy).
Creating “opportunity” for women required casting millions of undereducated young females loose into a world un-buoyed by any support except the government’s largesse (expressed through an increasingly debased currency and the enhancement of police-state levels of government interference in the civic and private life of the nation). It also doubled the workforce precisely as the economy was being deliberately dismantled and unable to provide jobs even for its more ‘traditional’ workers.
“Welcoming the immigrant” led to a vast influx not only of legal but of illegal immigrants – many of whom needed much help in appreciating the genius of the American vision (so different from the political practices of their countries of origin). But precisely at the same time, wrenching open societal and cultural and political space for “opportunity” meant a devil-may-care dismantling of the foundations of the American vision in any usable sense. And where were they to all find jobs?
In terms of envisioning themselves on any solid ground of belief and emplaced securely within the moral and spiritual parameters of American and Western civilization, the poor and the immigrants – legal and otherwise – were on their own.
They were ‘free’ and ‘liberated’ to try to eke out a living in an increasingly hollow and incompetent economy; whatever support ‘Citizenship’ and American ‘tradition’ and ‘history’ might offer, and whatever they chose to define as being a ‘liberated human being’ … well, they were free to wander through the store and try on anything that caught their fancy.
I think that what We are seeing in this letter – and in the entire frogs’ chorus of official commentary – is Teddy’s, and beyond him the Democrats’, efforts to spin their sorry history of the past forty Biblical years.
And not only of the Demcorats but also of the entire Beltway, which has now congealed into an un-dis-electable nomenklatura resembling nothing so much as the USSR’s governing Soviet ‘elites’ in the 1970s.
They all would like to take this marvelous and solemn opportunity to spin themselves away from – far away from – what they’ve done and been doing for all those forty Biblical years. Let’s pretend the last forty years didn’t happen, folks; we just sorta are where we are now, and the Democrats are here to save ya – hell, let’s be bipartisan: the Beltway’s here to save ya!
Because if Teddy needed a ‘fresh start’ after Chappaquiddick, the Dems and the whole Beltway need a fresh start now. Turns out that the old 'limousine liberal' charge was right: pandering to the bottom of society, collecting PAC money from the top, they lent their authority to a war on the middle. And now the middle is gone - and the economy too. The 'America' of the postwar era, that could get a man on the moon in 1969, is even more irretrievable a reality than the Civil War.
But, of course, if the Dems and the whole Beltway need to be ‘redeemed’ real quick, then maybe they can get it done efficiently and cheaply by getting folks to think that since Teddy redeemed himself, then his 'redemption' will float all the Beltway boats. And then the band can play on, at least up in the first class saloon up on the Beltway deck.
They want to get past Nuremberg without actually having to stop there: They didn’t do it, and anyway they meant well. One cannot think back to the Soviet elites since in their system the elites never had to answer to the citizens – a state of affairs still lamentably not fully actualized over here, where ‘quaint’ and Dead-White-Male and variously ‘oppressive’ Constitutional traditions still retain sufficient integrity to require some minimally “decent respect” for the opinion of the Citizenry and The People.
One might, however, think of the Italian elites – such as they were – as the unspinnable reality of Consequences-come-home-to-roost began to overtake the illusory and frankly delusional ‘wonderland’ of Mussolini’s Fascist paradise. They cockily admit to being long-standing members of the national elite (so they expect good tables at all the better restaurants), but as for their recent activities in the government, they don’t really seem to recall much – except their unassailably good intentions.
The present script lacks only a suitable ‘Mussolini’ upon whom it can all be blamed. Who can decisively choose between Reagan and Clinton? Or among Nixon and George I and George II? Or the towering, desperation-addled Laocoon figure of LBJ?
But once again, the American vision still having retained some of its vitality, there never was one ‘strongman’. Instead there were numerous bloviating treacheries, committed in the eternal self-interested quest for votes and the cash to buy them, that have now deformed the careers and integrity of just about the entire sitting political class (with some few impressive exceptions).
Nor does Teddy choose to remind the Pope that another huge element of that “opportunity” was generalized abortion. After all, given Nature’s rather oppressive plan that saddles the female of the species with the biological reality of gestation and the complex competence to relate to infants, it was required that the government somehow make Nature ‘go away’, repeal or circumvent the consequences of her arrangements, all the while claiming that the government power was not being simultaneously engorged and deformed in order to achieve it, and asserting that any resulting legal inequality was really ‘equality’, since it was being imposed in the name of equality.
Teddy, personally, is on much more solid ground, though, when he asserts that “I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic”. The Catholic Church has always held the deepest and most intimate efforts and strivings of its ‘children’ – as it were – to be paramount; and that Church has always assumed that nobody’s perfect and that you have to put up with a lot of tares to prevent ripping up the wheat in any human field.
And, let’s face it, the first Pope himself said to the Boss that if everybody was going to be defined only on the basis of whether s/he led a sinless life “then Lord who can stand?”. The Church has always displayed a patience with sinfulness – since trying to work with humanity without being up to your neck in the stuff is like trying to swim in water without getting wet. And the Church herself – much as some members prefer not to be reminded of it – is composed of sin-prone human beings, just like the rest of the species.
Which is no doubt why the Pope displayed a fine patience – tempered however with an experienced shrewdness – in responding to the letter that the nice though heavily-escorted postman delivered. The Pope thanks the scribbling – but noticeably not kneeling – lion for his prayers, will pray for the gentleman, and commends the lion and all his pride to God.
And really, what more can anybody do?
James Carroll, noted commentator on things Catholic and political, tries to do that ‘more’.
Speaking of Teddy’s passing and those of his two brothers, Carroll asks in a column “Why does his passing rank with theirs as a momentous break in time?”
Carroll, not a little prone to the interwoven Irish tendencies toward self-serving sentimentality and a sugary romanticism that nicely frosts all foibles and crimes, opines that “the clue is in the word ‘dream’”.
“Kennedy’s reference pointed beyond the political cliché of ‘the American dream’ and even beyond the specific agenda that defined his liberalism – social justice, economic equity, peace.”
I am one with Carroll in disparaging the bloviating dishonesty with which far too many of the elite intone or bray that phrase “the American dream”. The phrase has indeed become a cliché. And We are all the worse for that.
But I’d say that the Framers were not ‘dreamers’ in the first place. It’s far too childish a word for generations raised with an acute sense of the dangerous business of being human and living among humans, bethumped as the species is by that ineffable propensity toward at least occasional evil and by the ever-present threat of failure, deformity and death.
They had a clear and precise vision of the dangers humans posed to each other. And while they hoped for the best, they constructed a government for the worst: a balanced mechanism that would keep the assorted human tendencies – the individual fires of greed and self-interest – from burning together into a mega-fire, a wildfire that would consume everything in its path.
And if they had a nice appreciation of individual human propensities to frakkery, they had an even more acute awareness as to how governments – comprised of humans but possessed of a superhuman power – can run wild.
And ultimately, as Lincoln saw, they put their trust in the decency of a citizenry maturing increasingly into civic and personal ripeness, unbethumped – they hoped – by the impositions of a tyrannical government.
That wasn’t a ‘dream’. It was a ‘vision’, which isn’t quite the same thing. They were older and they had ‘visions’, where – as Scripture doth say – it is the young who have ‘dreams’. Life is no business for the young – if I may; the young are too inexperienced and too hasty and too cocky and arrogant, callow even.
Alas, as revolutionaries go – and as they would be in the 1960s – the Framers weren’t your average revolutionary. They were older. Men, yes, but still human beings and rather profoundly aware of that.
And possessed of that solid Anglo-Saxon practicality that is not so often observed in the Continental political experience.
So ‘the American vision’, then, as they saw it, was indeed unique. And based not on wild dreams of a paradise on earth, but rather of a fresh start for a perennially imperfect species. No human angels for them, and no utter monsters. The ‘American’ would be a maturing, ripening Citizen.
And a Citizen and a Citizenry committed by all the necessity of human weakness to struggling in season and out of season, each generation in its era, with such newly-hatched manifestation of the perennial weakness of the species as each historical era’s events would pose.
They would never have expected that a citizenry weakened by immaturity and the utter abandonment of any effort toward some genuine ‘character’ could ever fulfill its responsibilities toward the preservation of what must always be a “strenuous liberty”.
It is perhaps not coincidental that Teddy, seeking his political opportunities where he might, especially after Chappaquiddick’s still unplumbed depths, wound up embracing groups who themselves sought deliberately to erase ‘character’ and ‘decency’ and ‘tradition’ from the American lexicon, and from the American skill-set. After all, judged on those bases, Teddy had always fallen short – and egregiously so.
So his brand of ‘liberalism’, as Carroll refers to it, was somewhat morally flawed to begin with, and lethally so. It flew in the face of History and Nature not simply in its purported revolutionary determination to eradicate ‘oppression’ and – more dangerously – all designated ‘oppressors’, but also in its refusal to acknowledge the most fundamental, the most existential (if you wish) oppression of all: the human propensity to evil that ever seeks to strangle or at least fatally deform that good which is – We must hope and pray – the truly defining characteristic of a genuine, mature humanity – male or female, whatever the color of the skin.
The abandonment by recent American ‘liberalism’ of that humanity – as a goal or even as an existing reality – is a fatal hallmark of the era in which Teddy K made himself indeed a lion (and has no one read what the Psalms have to say about ‘lions’?).
Carroll suggests that it is the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy that are the reason why “two generations of young Americans have been so efficiently ushered into the echo chamber of that cultural moment”. It seems a stretch. Civic adulthood can handle an assassination; youth perhaps not so well – and it is the hallmark of the Sixties that the adults of the day, already a bit gaga over ‘Camelot’ and the success of one of their age cohort over the ‘old’ era of Eisenhower, were suddenly baffled into a withdrawn silence precisely when their qualities were most urgently required to balance the national Ship.
He treads with a coy lightness over the lethal but wholly predictable consequences of Identity Politics: “the anxieties of irreconcilable political discord”.
Nor, coyly and perhaps slyly, does he offer any trenchant commentary on that profound problem. He retreats, rather, into psychologism: since the Sixties and those assassinations, “the nation has been suffering a communal case of post-traumatic stress disorder”. Neat.
But it’s always been a deep and troubling question with the diagnosis of PTSD: why doesn’t everybody get it? Why are only some persons debilitated by it while others – many others – keep on keeping on, performing resiliently, even robustly, and even in not a few cases seeming to ‘feed’ on the stressor in order to evolve an even more seasoned and tempered vitality?
Of course, it’s anybody’s guess whether the non-victims are in the majority. Or whether they could even be heard in the current conditions governing national discourse. ‘Victimhood’ is the ur-Identity now; being an ‘American’ is somehow ‘quaint’ now and trails great clouds of a richly-assorted ‘oppressiveness’.
When Parliament debated Chamberlain’s political fate in May of 1940, one Member –rising to speak – was urged by a colleague in a loud shout heard throughout the hall: “Speak for England!” Rather than to simply assume a business-as-usual, party-politics approach to the momentous challenge confronting them all.
Who now will speak for “America”? For this and that group, there are always the usual voices that will essay a pandering bray or bleat. But who will speak for the country, for The People, for the Vision?
Let the dreamers dream their dreams and let the dead bury the dead.
We have more urgent work. Life-giving, life-threatening challenges confront Us.
And Teddy had a lot to do with that.
Let Us therefore Grit Up and get on with it. What We here do “will mark us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation”, as Lincoln said. And even if “honor” is no longer ‘valorized’ among Our elites, the challenges that must be faced and mastered remain real.
And that is the fierce urgency of now.
Labels: Teddy Kennedy