I want to be as fair as possible in remarks on the death of Edward M. Kennedy, just as all of us will want our survivors to consider the “whole package” and defer ultimate judgment to God. I never met him, but he was generally considered to have the most effective and most competent staff in the U. S. Senate; he was without doubt a very committed liberal warrior and probably an intellectually honest man of the left; he was highly respected and well liked by many of the conservative persuasion for whom I have high regard; and he obviously made a sincere attempt in his later years to atone for a number of egregious transgressions and indiscretions from his earlier days, the guilt from which must have weighed heavy on his soul.
He was as well the “poster boy” for everything loathsome about what 20th century liberalism morphed into after World War II. I will spare you the list here, but Jonah Goldberg covered it pretty well in his book, Liberal Fascism. His popular legacy will be his work in the years since the 1980 convention speech conceding the Democratic Presidential nomination, during which he worked tirelessly for the progressive agenda outlined in that speech, with considerable success thanks to Republican co-sponsorship in many cases and in spite of Republican majorities for most of that time. Some commentators applaud these measures as appropriate for the times, but I believe we will be living with both the intended and unintended negative consequences of most of them for a very long time.
My most vivid memory of Kennedy, however, will be his speech on the Senate floor during the confirmation debate on Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, which included these lines: “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution.” Nothing from the so-called “extreme right” cabal rivals these remarks for their vitriol, their dishonesty, or their subsequent negative impact on civility in the public square. RIP.