Thursday, August 27, 2009

About That Kennedy, II

The News Hour with Jim Lehrer provides today's ration of nauseating Kennedy hagiography. Let's inspect the closing sentiments from the Deans of Washington Conventional Wisdom, Mark Shields and David Brooks.

Lehrer: [paraphrasing] final words on Kennedy?

Shields: Kennedy leaves a legacy of bipartisanship in the Senate, which is factious (sic) and fractured, and an unpleasant place. [He represented] an ability to stand firmly for what you believe and, at the same time, to see in those with whom you disagree a humanity and a capacity for compromise and consensus.

Brooks: He could exercise great anger, when he disapproved, but it was not resentment, and so it never got quite as personal, so for conservatives in the wilderness that is a model for them, to find the best in your tradition and to follow it the way he followed liberalism when it was in the wilderness during Reaganism.

An ability to stand firmly for what you believe and at the same time to see in those with whom you disagree a humanity and a capacity for compromise and consensus?


Not resentful and never personal?


1987 – Floor of the United States Senate:

Mr. President, I oppose the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, and I urge the Senate to reject it.

In the Watergate scandal of 1973, two distinguished Republicans — Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus — put integrity and the Constitution ahead of loyalty to a corrupt President. They refused to do Richard Nixon's dirty work, and they refused to obey his order to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. The deed devolved on Solicitor General Robert Bork, who executed the unconscionable assignment that has become one of the darkest chapters for the rule of law in American history.

That act — later ruled illegal by a Federal court — is sufficient, by itself, to disqualify Mr. Bork from this new position to which he has been nominated. The man who fired Archibald Cox does not deserve to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Mr. Bork should also be rejected by the Senate because he stands for an extremist view of the Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court that would have placed him outside the mainstream of American constitutional jurisprudence in the 1960s, let alone the 1980s. He opposed the Public Accommodations Civil Rights Act of 1964. He opposed the one-man one-vote decision of the Supreme Court the same year. He has said that the First Amendment applies only to political speech, not literature or works of art or scientific expression.

Under the twin pressures of academic rejection and the prospect of Senate rejection, Mr. Bork subsequently retracted the most Neanderthal of these views on civil rights and the first amendment. But his mind-set is no less ominous today.

Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.

America is a better and freer nation than Robert Bork thinks. Yet in the current delicate balance of the Supreme Court, his rigid ideology will tip the scales of justice against the kind of country America is and ought to be.

The damage that President Reagan will do through this nomination, if it is not rejected by the Senate, could live on far beyond the end of his presidential term. President Reagan is still our President. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate, and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and on the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.

And did I mention that the nominee is a pedophile, eats puppies, sleeps with farm animals, worships Satan on the corpses of nuns and priests, and is incontinent? And he does not wash his hands after using the toilet.
This speech is credited with changing the tone of Washington and introducing the politics of personal destruction. Perhaps. Sydney Brillo Duodenum is highly dubious that Sen. Kennedy’s speech represented anything new in Washington polemics. That’s to argue that Joe Kennedy, Sr. was a saint and his son was the bad seed that changed the world. Perhaps what was new was the brio and lust with which the media, then fully aghast at the presumption of the Reagan Presidency, took the Kennedy harangue and used it to further indict Reagan and conservatives. Chickens and eggs.

In any event, the speech is a slice of the Edward Kennedy style. Yes, yes, he was a man of passion and belief in his causes, and you can’t fault him for consistently staying on message, but so often his advocacy was advanced by impugning the morality and intentions of his policy adversaries. A disagreement about the precise amount to increase the minimum wage is actually a discussion of undeserved gross corporate profit for heartless elitists versus a husbandless mother of three trying to make enough money to earn bus fare to take her to the ritzy part of town so she can search through the garbage bins of fancy restaurants.

In private, in the company of sycophants and fawners and Camelotians, he let bare the prime Kennedy signature. Some years ago, your host penetrated the Lion’s sanctum sanctorum, the Senator’s Embassy Row mansion, to attend a “Literary Night” PTA fundraiser for SBD’s child’s school (the literary draw being the Senator himself on the occasion of the publishing of one of his books on the policy route out of the supposed conservative hell that had been imposed on Washington).

The common image of Senator Kennedy is of a bloated, red-faced, tottering boulder in tweed and tiny loafers, screaming spittle into the well of the Senate chamber. But at that point in his purgatorio, Senator Kennedy had actually slimmed down, his face had lost its bulberous aspects and gin rumminess, his hair was not yellow, his eyes almost white and bagless, and he appeared to be holding steady with a simple Chardonnay. He looked somewhat svelte, healthy and chipper. But when he tacked into the welcoming hot gusts of wide eyed admiration billowing off the faces of Washington’s most elite and insufferable, in the living room of the Kennedy mansion, next to a piano on which sat a silver framed black and white portrait of the Kennedy clan playing football on the lawn in Hyannis, it took only minutes for him to transform into the red-faced, screaming spittle lion of the Senate, impugning his adversaries and practically questioning whether they deserved to live to see the next day. He denounced Bush. No surprise, really. But he accused him of literally destroying the country and ruining public education in the United States with No Child Left Behind, because it still wasn’t enough money and was framed by the canard of holding schools accountable. Kennedy accused Bush of doing so out of spite and absolute indifference to the future of children. Kennedy promised the assembled that he would not stop until education received the funding necessary to make this country great again. And he tied it to the minimum wage and abortion choice and civil rights and the entire Liberal Litany. This received many righteous head nods among the 20-something teachers in attendance as well as the parents. Strange, heaving stuff, particularly considering that Kennedy had worked so closely with Bush on crafting NCLB and appeared a the bill signing and glad handed all around. At one point, Kennedy simply appeared as a giant red balloon looming over the gathering, with all awaiting its explosion.

Brooks is absolutely wrong. It was personal and there was a great deal of resentment. Shields is absolutely wrong. Kennedy ascribed no humanity to conservatives. Whatever it was they had agreed to, though, it was apparently not enough; it was not fair. The impression was that compromise was and always would be unacceptable to this man, and any agreement or bipartisanship was something akin to a hudna, a tactical moment of peacemaking, during which you work to defeat your foe during the disadvantage occasioned by the weakness he showed in agreeing to a compromise.

In any event, it should come as no surprise that "Washington" would eulogize with more lies and misrepresentations of Kennedy. It's how they conducted themselves when he was alive.