We join the legions of humanity from all corners of this lonely planet in mourning the passing yesterday of Senator Teddy Kennedy, one of the world’s most principled, impassioned and effective leaders and defenders of modern democracy, especially including its commitments to justice, equal respect for all, and compassion.
Certainly no “local angle” is required to justify our attention to this subject, but Senator Kennedy’s ties to Northern Virginia and Falls Church are well known to many. Members of the Kennedy clan’s inner circle live here, and Senator Kennedy spent many hours in private visits here. His impact on us all has been veritably cosmic in dimension.
While tons of time and attention and barrels of ink will be dedicated over the coming days, weeks and years into the future about the many, many accomplishments of Senator Kennedy, there are two moments in his storied career that will last the test of time and forever be remembered by anyone who loves freedom and democracy.
The first was his legendary speech in Madison Square Garden at the Democratic National Convention in 1980. The second was the equally-memorable speech he gave, overcoming evident wounds of the illness that would eventually take him, opening the historic Democratic National Convention that nominated Barack Obama just a year ago.
The speeches bracketed an era when Senator Kennedy’s dogged persistence and leadership played such a critical role in maintaining, under great siege, an uncompromising commitment to liberal values and legislative goals. Seeing the nation through that time as its only high-profile pure liberal, he handed the baton to the Obama generation a year ago with a speech so eloquent, and delivered under such personal duress, as to count as one of the most important in the nation’s history.
In 1980, Senator Kennedy ran a spirited campaign doing the almost unheard of, challenging an incumbent president in his own party. President Jimmy Carter’s chances for re-election were virtually nil, and Kennedy battled valiantly against his party’s bureaucratic inertia to prevent that outcome. He came up short at the national convention, when a procedural vote to free delegates from their first-ballot commitments failed by a small margin.
It was his concession speech that so fueled the flames of inspiration and ideals of his mostly-younger supporters on that historic night such that they, like his brother President John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame at the Arlington Cemetery, remained alive through 28 years of right wing domination in America, to burst forth brightly once again in 2008.
That August 12, 1980 speech is best known for its closing line: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
Thanks to him, he was right.