Civil Liberties

Ted Kennedy, to the Pope: Bless Me, Father, For I Have Legislated


I caught a half-hour or so of the Ted Kennedy funeral on TV this weekend, and there was a widely praised moment that struck me as just off: The reading of the dying senator's letter to the Pope.

Not the gesture itself (though it's always useful to be reminded that, even in near-death, it's good to be a Kennedy), but rather the letter's contents, particularly a section that sounded like Teddy was already campaigning for a Senate seat in heaven:

I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, 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. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and been the focus of my work as a United States Senator.

I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I am committed to do everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health care field and will continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.

Maybe it was all just an expression of anxiety over his pro-choice record? I certainly hope so, since the idea of touting your legislative record in a deathbed letter to the leader of your faith strikes me as one of the most narcisstic moves I've seen since Mick Jagger married his doppleganger.

And the text is also a perfect exemplar of something we've been marinating in since the last Kennedy brother died: Legislative motivation exalted to the point of policy tautology. Because Teddy Kennedy intended to champion the poor and fight discrimination, then the results, it has gone without saying, were that the poor and the discriminated-against were better off. What matters is the purity of heart, and loudness of voice, rather than the real-world impact. It's almost as if the people who didn't agree with the efficacy of Kennedy's policies must therefore, by the transitive property of inequality, hate the poor and love discrimination. But as the New York Post's always-entertaining Kyle Smith pointed out this weekend, the real-world impacts were important, too. 

Read Nick Gillespie's great obit on Kennedy here.