Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who served Massachusetts for 46 years — sometimes surrounded by controversy, but always with distinction — was the only one of Joseph P. Kennedy’s four sons to die surrounded by family at home in his bed.
Old man Kennedy, although native-born and well-educated (at Boston Latin and Harvard), embodied a flinty immigrant ideal: “To hell with the world — me and my family first.” The boys were certainly their father’s sons, but they transcended his narrow obsessions. Joe died in combat in the skies over Europe during World War II; Jack, assassinated in Dallas; Bobby, gunned down in Los Angeles.
Service was the ideal of Joe’s children. And not just for the boys, as the life of Eunice Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics (and also recently deceased), testifies.
Ted Kennedy led a life of Shakespearean intensity. Although punctuated by tragedy, it was by no means tragic. Quite the contrary. In his final years, Kennedy was heroic, his sprightly nature and generous soul fortified by a commitment to social justice that impressed — even awed — all but the most fanatical ideological foes.
That Kennedy’s lifelong crusade for more equitable national health care appeared, at the time of his death, to be once again heading for ruin in Washington bears out the truth of Jack’s often repeated observation: “Life is unfair.”
Kennedy embraced the uncertainties and challenges of life with existential zeal. While his legislative accomplishments were legion, his spirit was unique.
Here is a scary thought: this time next year, just months before the midterm national elections that will reapportion congressional power between Democrats and Republicans, large numbers of voters will say that, when it comes to the mess in Afghanistan, they’re not sure which president to blame: George W. Bush or Barack Obama.
Pro-Obama commentators on the cable news channels are becoming skittish about the news out of Afghanistan. The warning they are sounding is by way of analogy to Lyndon B. Johnson, who saw his reputation as a domestic reformer destroyed by his escalation of the Vietnam War.
With health-care reform stalled and much spade work still needed to dig the nation out of its disastrous economic downturn, it is very much an open question how many of Obama’s aspirations can be realized.
As for his goal to deliver some sort of victory in Afghanistan — no matter how loosely defined — that, too, seems problematic.
A recent Washington Post–ABC News poll shows that a majority of Americans believe the Afghanistan war is not worth fighting. Thirty-six percent of those respondents think we are losing.
That is not a margin of confidence on which to base further troop escalations. But that, inexplicably, is what American commanders in Afghanistan want to do.
After the surge is fully implemented, the number of soldiers and Marines will stand at 68,000. It is unclear how many more boots on the ground the military brass are now requesting, but they have recently relayed concerns to Richard C. Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The situation in Afghanistan has always been dicey — though before Bush diverted military effort away from that theater to wage his ill-conceived war in Iraq, there were glimmers of hope that Al Qaeda and its Taliban protectors could be marginalized.