Friday, August 28, 2009

To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Required

I was in the same room with Ted Kennedy twice.

During the summer of 2000, I was an intern for the Hon. Juanita Millender-McDonald in Washington, DC. As a member of the House, her office was in the Cannon House Office Building, a building which induced excited taking-part-in-democracy-living-within-history chills every time I entered it. The office held four interns (including myself), a receptionist, scheduler, three legislative assistants, a legislative director, a chief-of-staff, and the Member herself. All of these desks were crammed into two rooms about the size of my dorm room at American University, except for the Member, who had an office to herself. I thought the cramped quarters were kind of exciting - Democracy at work, and all.

The house didn't use Congressional Pages for much (at least our office didn't). It was nice to leave the office and explore the halls of Congress and the catacombs beneath it, so whenever something needed to be delivered somewhere the interns would volunteer. One day, our LD asked myself and another intern to deliver a piece of legislation to Kennedy's office since it was about to be considered before the Senate. So, we took the elevator to the basement, walked through the catacombs past 19 year-olds with blazers and loafers that cost more than our tuition and very serious people with wires in their ears, took the tiny subway (only the Senate got one) and then went up to Kennedy's office.

When we entered we tried not to be dumbfounded. There, in all its Federalist glory, was a giant expansive office filled with strong jawed east coasters. And lo and behold, there he was. He came out of his office, said hello to us (besides the looks on our faces, our orange INTERN badges were blazing around our necks), and continued into the hall with a gaggle of suits and pearls.

The second time was when I attended a health care briefing. Unfortunately I can't remember exactly what the topic was (I attended A LOT of them) but, Ted Kennedy was there. As he spoke his face became so red that it almost matched the velvet curtains behind him. Sure, this is a family that knows how to enjoy a good cocktail, but it was also because he was so animated about the subject. For a nineteen year-old who had just spent a summer being disillusioned by the players in the "democratic process," it was refreshing.

I am not one to give in to moving eulogies about public figures while denying that they are people - often deeply flawed people. Which is why I was really glad to read Melissa's post:
The terrible bargain we all seem to have made with Teddy is that we overlooked the occasions when he invoked his privilege as a powerful and well-connected man from a prominent family, because of the career he made using that same privilege to try to make the world a better place for the people dealt a different lot.
It could not have been easy to be the only living member of a legacy that everyone expected to change the country, if not the world. But, in many ways he did not rest on the family's laurels. Jezebel put together a list of his legislative accomplishments and it is impressive. Amplify also has the text of Kennedy's speech to the Senate in 1993 on the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act which, sadly, continues to ring true.

So while I won't forget the flaws the public knew about, I am also thankful for work he did.

1 comment:

be nice.


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