… General Robert E. Lee into a dark silhouette against the western sky, an inky darkness descended over the graves of our nation’s heroes in Arlington National Cemetery.
Meanwhile, on the slopes below… reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s reluctant departure from the city in January 2001… the meticulously-planned funeral service for Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy was running a full two hours behind schedule. And as the television cameras panned from the silhouette of the Lee mansion back to the grave site, television screens across America went black.
The only evidence viewers had that a funeral service was still in progress was the sound of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s voice as he read a letter Kennedy had written to Pope Benedict XVI some two months before his death, a letter that was hand delivered to the pontiff by Barack Obama on Friday, July 10, 2009.
The letter represented the fears, if not the inner terrors, of a man who knows he is about to meet his maker, but who is not quite certain that he is ready to answer for the kind of man he has been. In what can only be seen as a posthumous commercial for a Democratic healthcare reform bill… and a last ditch attempt at personal salvation… Kennedy’s words echoed back from the grave.
Without knowing the Pope’s attitude toward Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s brand of “liberation” theology (“God damn America!” etc., etc.), the senator began by taking refuge behind Obama’s 20 years as a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Presuming to speak, not only for Obama’s religiosity, but for Obama’s opinion of, and knowledge of, his (Kennedy’s) own faith, he began by saying, “Most Holy Father, I asked President Obama to personally hand-deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me, and I am so deeply grateful to him.”
In his third paragraph, Kennedy attempted to invoke his mother and all of his siblings as surrogates while tossing his father, ever so gently, under the bus, saying, “I have been blessed to be part of a wonderful family. And both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives…” It was almost as if to say, “Lord, I know that my father was an evil man, a bootlegger, a grafter, and a consorter with criminals, but let me remind you… in case you want to check the books… he was a man who gave generously to the church.”
But in the most shameless self-promotion of all, Kennedy tried to gain the Pope’s goodwill by falling back on his record as the most reliably liberal member of the U.S. Senate, saying, “I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I have worked to welcome the immigrant, to fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and have been the focus of my work as a United States senator.
“I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I'm committed to doing everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health field and I'll continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone…”
Somehow, Kennedy overlooked his many years of unfailing support for abortion on demand, even to the point of aborting viable full-term fetuses, in complete opposition to church doctrine. He overlooked his many years of support for his party’s regular use of fraud, violence, and intimidation to unfairly steal elections. He failed to ask the Pope’s forbearance for his many years of support for welfare state programs that robbed the poor of their pride and their human dignity. And he failed to ask forgiveness for a lifetime of fidelity to the principles of wealth redistribution… robbing the rich to give to the poor.
And finally, in his opening and closing paragraphs, he included a blanket plea for the pontiff’s intercession for some of his most universally recognized failings… his role in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne; his role in manufacturing a “not guilty” verdict in the rape trial of his nephew, William Kennedy Smith; his role in unfairly savaging the reputations of good and decent men such as Judges Robert Bork, Manuel Estrada, and Clarence Thomas. To that end, he wrote, “I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings of my faith. I continue to pray for God's blessings on you and on our church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.”
What followed a few weeks later was what can best be described as a Vatican “form letter,” similar to the responses we all receive when we write a letter to our congressman. The letter, written by a Vatican functionary, said:
“The Holy Father has read the letter which you entrusted to President Obama, who kindly presented it to him during their recent meeting. He was saddened to know of your illness, and asked me to assure you of his concern and his spiritual closeness. He is particularly grateful for your promise of prayers for him and for the needs of our universal church.
His Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope, and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God, our merciful father. He invokes upon you the consolation and peace promised by the risen savior to all who share in his sufferings and trust in his promise of eternal life.
Commending you and the members of your family to the loving intervention of the blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic blessing as a pledge of wisdom, comfort and strength in the Lord.”
Like many other men born to great wealth, such as his older brothers, Jack and Robert, Ted Kennedy’s public service was rooted in nothing more than a misguided sense of noblesse oblige… of all motivations for public service, perhaps the most dangerous and least honorable.
Like most other public men similarly situated, Kennedy was never forced to put himself to the test to achieve anything of value, and having all of the advantages that accompany great wealth and social position, he never knew the value of struggle or the character-building that comes with an occasional taste of defeat. Looking down from his lofty perch, all he knew was that nothing in life was ever as easy for the common man as it was for him. And he saw that, because of discrimination or because of bad life choices, some of his fellow citizens lived lives of “quiet desperation.”
A typical liberal, he became convinced that, by using his wealth and social position to gain political power, he could make what he saw as a “positive” change in the lives of the poor unfortunates at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder. What he never seemed to understand was that only the weakest and least deserving of those wanted or needed his help. The vast majority wanted nothing more than for him to simply leave them the hell alone.
In 1968, when Kennedy delivered the eulogy for his slain brother, Robert, he said, "My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life…" If that was true of Robert Kennedy, then it is most certainly true of his younger brother. But Kennedy was not about to leave his own idealization or enlargement to chance. As a measure of his narcissism, one could not fail to notice that, in his letter to the Pope, he began 15 of his 20 sentences with the word “I.”
Unless the Kennedy family decides to once again lay claim to a senate seat that they have come to view as private property, this should be our last word on the subject. We can only hope. However, in the event that yet another Kennedy wangles his/her way into the JFK seat, the Kennedy mystique will be a subject of discussion for at least another generation.