For the second time now I’ve watched an American flag fly at half-mast over the waters of Newport, Rhode Island marking the passing of yet another member of the Kennedy family. On a July afternoon ten years earlier, my wife and I looked on from the deck of the Rum Runner as Hugh D. Auchincloss III, the stepbrother of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, lowered the flag at his property at Hammersmith Farm. It had been confirmed earlier that day that all souls on board the Piper Saratoga piloted by John Kennedy Jr. had gone down in the Atlantic off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Now on this perfect August morning as I stood near the lowered colors at Newport’s Easton’s Beach, my thoughts turned to the life and legacy of the last lion of the U.S. Senate.
Even in this New England community that continues to celebrate its strong ties to the Camelot era of the political dynasty, the Kennedy name evokes strong emotions. From bootleggers to the beatified, the family is either vilified or venerated. And Ted, as much as any one of his bloodline, fulfilled our need to imbue our public figures with those qualities that allow us to imagine them as devils or angels – depending upon one’s particular political persuasion.
By my take, based upon the hours of conversations and comments overheard at the bar at Flo’s Clam Shack in Middletown, RI on the day after his death, Senator Edward Moore Kennedy will be remembered as the greatest legislator and statesman of the last fifty years, or just another fortunate son of privledge that was not held accountable for his sins of the past. The immutable forces that apply to human nature dictate that the truth, as always, is somewhere close to the middle of our perception and observations.
It is interesting to note though, that his longevity in the senate may have come about as a result of his greatest failing. The tradgedy at Chappaquiddick rendered him impotent as his brother’s heir apparent to the White House; but the citizens of Massachusetts entrusted him with a reign that would allow him to develop his legislative prowess.
Even as I write this piece I find myself at great odds about my own feelings toward the late senator. Anytime one truly makes an effort to consider and delve into the lives of those that we’ve elevated beyond the status of being human, we leave ourselves open to the probability of internal conflict and disappointment. With the possible exception of “His Excellency” George Washington, all those that were worth their salt as leaders seemed to have been equally proportioned with the potential to be a saint or a scoundrel on any given day.
So it is probably best that we continue to honor, commerorate and give thanks to those that have dedicated their lives to serving this nation, and allow providence to sort out those flaws that are inherent in all of us.
Give praise to the regal lion – just remember that he is still a lion!
Thanks to Susan Sipprelle for her photo of Hammersmith Farm.
Posted by: Chris Poh