I knew absolutely nothing about Ted Kennedy although I had heard of the Chappaquiddick (what a great place name that is) incident when he apparently ditched a car in lake resulting in the death of his lady passenger before finally turning himself in to the police a whole week later (thus ruining any chance he ever had of running for president). However, I read three reactions to his recent death that make you wonder whether they’re all talking about the same man.
The BBC hailed him as a “champion of liberal causes”:
Yet, despite the shadow of Chappaquiddick, he became a respected elder statesman of the Democratic Party, and a champion of liberal causes in the US Senate.
Independent US presidential candidate Ralph Nader, not known for his admiration of the Democratic party or mainstream media versions of history, remembered his legacy of “helping the needy and impoverished”:
Among Senator Ted Kennedy’s many accomplishments in the U.S. Senate was a little-heralded but critical boost he gave to the Freedom of Information legislation in 1974. At a time when the opposition to this key bill was in need of a countervailing champion, we visited Senator Kennedy, had a very substantive meeting and secured his networking support among other Senators, which led to its passage.One can only surmise how many major changes Senator Kennedy could have secured through the Congress had the Senate been populated by the kind of progressives who served in the mid-Sixties instead of their more conservative successors, both in Congress and in the White House.
His legacy of helping the impoverished, the excluded, and the needy in our society will persist. Our sympathies are with his family in these sorrowful times.
Writing in the First Post however, Alexander Cockburn dismisses all of these glowing assessments remembering him as a “hollow champion” who helped dismantle the labour movement in America and lay the groundwork for the neo-liberal NAFTA era that’s created many of today’s social and economic problem:
While Teddy Kennedy’s disasters were vivid, his legislative triumphs, draped in this week’s obituaries with respectful homage, were far less colourful. And they were actually devastating for the very constituencies – working people, organised labour –whose champion he claimed to be.
Though the obituarists have glowingly related Kennedy’s 46-year stint in the US Senate and, as ‘the last liberal’, his mastery of the legislative process, they miss the fact that it was out of Kennedy’s Senate office that came two momentous bits of legislation that signalled the onset of the neo-liberal era: deregulation of trucking and aviation. They were a disaster for organised labour and the working conditions and pay of people in those industries.
(Kennedy).. helped push through NAFTA, the “free trade” pact that was another body blow to American labour. ….because his mishaps were so dramatic, no one remembers quite how noxious his political triumphs were for those who now mourn him as their lost leader.
Knowing how the mainstream media usually glowingly celebrate the deaths of their liberal heroes, I’m inclined to believe Cockburn’s assessment of things. However, Nader isn’t a man usually taken-in by mainstream liberal versions of history but since he works in Washington where Kennedy himself did, maybe not even he dared voice his full opinion.