Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A break from America’s political ugliness

Express Staff Writer

For several days last week, cable news television deserted the ugly underside of American culture to cover the death, eulogies, family tales, funeral and burial of Sen. Edward Kennedy. In so doing, cable TV showed it could still use adult judgment and hold an audience, if it chooses.

Gone briefly were the disturbing TV images of misinformed, uninformed, hysterical, childish Americans shrieking at each other in chaotic "town halls" about imaginary "death panels" and President Obama's birthplace. A visitor from outer space might've mistaken these spectacles as precursors of American civilization's end and the return of Cro-Magnon man, capable only of grunt-and-groan language skills.

The pause in that TV coverage was not the only public service Kennedy's death created.

As Democrats and a few serious Republicans alike recounted the man's astonishing and prodigious public life, from dynasty playboy to formidable Washington power broker regarded as a "lion" among colleagues, the Kennedy record in legislating good for Americans and anecdotes of his heretofore untold private Samaritanisms provided stark contrasts to midgets in national politics.

Take the senior U.S. senator from Iowa, Charles Grassley, who has reduced himself to mimicking feverish hallucinations that health care reform could "pull the plug on Grandma." Grassley and cohorts who are sabotaging legislation as health industry mouthpieces have disgraced the chamber that once inspired vision and statesmanship.

Broadcast and print reports of Kennedy's life were valuable history lessons, too. Once considered the hopeless lightweight of the Kennedy brothers, Ted Kennedy emerged over 47 years in the Senate as a giant of legislation, not to mention bearing unthinkable family burdens and pain as the eulogist to two assassinated brothers and patriarch of the sprawling Kennedy clan.

More than 250 Kennedy bills became law, including many benefiting critics who've minimized him as a "liberal" meddler—quadrupled funding for cancer research and treatment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, portability of job health insurance, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, to name a few.

Kennedy paid penitence for decades for Chappaquiddick and Mary Jo Kopechne's drowning as well as the period when his drinking and dissolute ways finally jolted him into rehab. By the time he died, he'd compiled a grander, more impressive record in government than his fabled brothers Jack and Bobby.

A few Republican colleagues even considered Kennedy vital.

"Ted Kennedy comes as close to being indispensable as any individual I've ever known in the Senate because he had a unique way of sitting down ... and making the right concessions," said Sen. John McCain, often a Kennedy lawmaking partner.

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