Edward Kennedy, RIP

Edward Kennedy, self-actualizer.

Everyone will have their own memories and views, of course: here is a great one by Charles Pierce from 2003. I suppose for me, one thing that stands out about Ted Kennedy was that he could find his true calling once he had finally put away what everyone else told him he “should” do, i.e. become President of the United States. Maybe he realized by the early 80’s that he could not win, but my limited experience with politicians is that they never realize this, and need a crushing defeat to have it drilled into them. At the Presidential level, Kennedy never had that: he came close to unseating a sitting President, who then went on to a crushing defeat himself. Kennedy was the logical nominee afterwards.

But maybe once he had (finally) run, he didn’t really want to run anymore. He just wanted to be a Senator — hardly a modest ambition for most people, but practically self-effacing for a Kennedy. He didn’t want to be the hero and symbol and hope of the country — he just wanted to help working people and the less fortunate.

And he did. Others will state the record better than I can, but in the 1990’s, he was responsible for among other things, the ADA, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, health care portability, several minimum wage increases, etc. etc. This during a time, during the Gingrich Dark Ages, when it was difficult to get anything progressive done. By finally giving up what everyone else wanted for him, Kennedy could do what he wanted for himself and for others.

There is a great story from Evan Thomas’ fine biography of Robert Kennedy that is telling. It is some time in 1965, and Ted and Bobby are sitting on the floor of the Senate, listening to someone drone on and on. Though younger, Ted had seniority over his older brother, who was a freshman. Bobby, who was never patient and never really liked legislatures, finally leaned over to Ted and said, “Do we really have to sit here and listen to this?”

“Yes,” said Ted. “We do.”

Rest in peace.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.