Senator Edward Kennedy was laid to rest last night in Arlington Cemetery, next to the two older brothers he’d long since mourned.
I’ve been following some of the coverage over the past few days—including the superb biographical portrait in Time—and what has struck me more than anything is the complexity of Kennedy’s character.
There’s always a tendency to paint the departed in rosy shades, to overlook their flaws and mistakes. But that hasn’t been as evident in Kennedy’s case. The media have talked about Chappaquiddick and about his failed bid for the White House. They’ve portrayed him as a driven politician and a complicated man.
But the media have also described him as a person who, above all else, was true to himself. The best analysis I’ve heard was on Minnesota Public Radio a couple of days ago. The commentator talked about how Kennedy knew exactly where he stood, and about how dogged he was in pursuing his agenda. And yet, paradoxically, it was exactly that trait that made him such a skilled negotiator.
I found that comment profoundly insightful. If you know what you most believe in, and what you’re willing to fight for, then you also know what you’re willing to give up.
One of Kennedy’s greatest gifts may have been that he knew not what to pursue, but what to give up.
I greatly admired Kennedy and will miss him—both for what he accomplished, and for the sense of connectedness he brought to an important time in our country’s past. But I take comfort in thinking that he will live on in some measure through the hundreds of bills he authored.
Farewell, Senator Kennedy.