The death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, we are being told, should strengthen our resolve to act in a bipartisan fashion. Many of the tributes, from former presidents and Republican colleagues, have stressed the late senator's willingness to find "common ground." Well, since ancient Rome we've been exhorted not to speak ill of the dead. But neither should we completely disfigure the truth.
Before offering some less than hagiographic reflections on the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (may he rest in peace), one pleasant memory: About a decade ago, I was late for a party in northwest Washington D.C. -- a neighborhood not known for abundant parking spaces. After circling the block several times, I spied a cramped space and determined that somehow I was going to fit my minivan into it. Just then, a large man approached walking two Portuguese Water Dogs. He stopped, saw my predicament, and proceeded to guide me into the space with lots of laughter, encouragement, and a little bit of teasing. I knew (obviously) that my Good Samaritan was the senior senator from Massachusetts. I have no reason to think he recognized me.
So I have personal experience of Teddy Kennedy's charm and affability. The many stories of his personal kindnesses to others (including those with whom he disagreed politically) speak well of him -- to a point. But Kennedy was a politician who too often permitted his own sense of righteousness to overwhelm the large reservoir of decency that he is reported to have possessed. He could trample on conservatives with, it seems, hardly a pang of conscience. He may have been the "great liberal lion" of the U.S. Senate, but some of us cannot forget that his tactics were often low and dishonorable.