Today in 2009 Senator Ted Kennedy passed into the Great Beyond. Probably the best piece The Nation ever published about him was this essay from 1980, “The Trashing of Teddy,” by Ronnie Dugger, published toward the end of Kennedy’s attempt to capture the Democratic presidential nomination from the incumbent, President Jimmy Carter. Kennedy fought all the way to the convention, the last time that was done in either major party, before famously declaring that “the dream shall never die.” Dugger, a longtime progressive journalist from Texas, is one of the very few members of The Nation’s Six Decades Club, which includes those writers who have contributed to the magazine in six different decades. Off the top of my head, other members would include Oswald Garrison Villard, Freda Kirchwey, and Gore Vidal, while Carey McWilliams and Dan Wakefield are members of the even more elite Seven Decades Club. In any case, here is an excerpt from Ronnie Dugger’s 1980 essay on the late Ted Kennedy.

Of course, Chappaquiddick is a minus against Kennedy; it should be. What we are supposed to do is weigh the pluses and minuses of each candidate and reach a decision. Kennedy’s courage in running despite the assassination of his brothers is a plus for him that has finally been noticed. Another plus is his fight, his refusal to quit despite steady drumbeating in the media suggesting that he do so, a fight that gives him the strength to refuse to concede to Carter even with all the primaries over and Carter’s delegate total well over the top. And there is also Kennedy’s grace, his good humor, despite the defeatism, abuse and contempt that have been crushing in on him. These things, too, are elements in his character. Why is Kennedy such a good soldier, such a good sport? Perhaps because he is not afraid of being killed, he is not afraid of losing a fight he believes in. His cup filled with tragedies, for some of which he bears blame, he has emerged, it appears, a deeper person, intact and strong. My sense of the good leader is one who has learned from the frailties and dangers within himself to understand them in others. If any of us could personally choose our leaders, we would not choose one as vulnerable as Kennedy, but history chooses them, and history chose him. When that history gives us too righteous a leader, we are in danger. Let one come by his compassion, though, from his own need of it from others, so that his righteousness is signified not in his person but in his issues—that is what we can hope to be able to trust….

[W]hatever happens and whatever else has to be said later about 1980, let it at least be remembered that despite withering abuse and orchestrated pressure, the last of the three Kennedy brothers came on in and fought the good fight and fought it well.

August 25, 2009

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