Day: August 26, 2009

Ranking The Ten Greatest Senators In American History, And One More!

With the death of Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, it makes one reflect on whether he belongs in the top ten of all US Senators since 1789.

The Senate has voted twice on the greatest members of its body, naming five in 1957 and adding two more at the turn of the 21st century.

It could be debated whether the complete list of seven is accurate, and there is no final answer in any case, as personal opinion plays a role in judging greatness.

The Senate in 1957 selected the “Triumvirate” of the first half of the 19th century–Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, along with one progressive and one conservative in the first half of the 20th century–Robert La Follette, Sr. of Wisconsin and Robert Taft of Ohio.

About a decade ago, one liberal Democrat and one conservative Republican, again from the first half of the 20th century, were added to the list–Robert Wagner of New York and Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan.

Do I agree on all seven on this list? Let’s say I am reluctant to include Calhoun, who in my mind was so destructive in his promotion of states rights and slavery, often called the man who brought us the Civil War, even though he had died eleven years earlier. I am also not a big fan of Robert Taft, Mr. Conservative Republican, who was for much of his time in office an isolationist in foreign policy, and a promoter of a strong anti union law still on the record books despite being vetoed by President Truman in 1947–the Taft-Hartley Act.

I have no problem with Clay, Webster, La Follette, Wagner, and even Vandenberg, a conservative, but also a man who abandoned isolationism and backed President Truman in his Cold War policies and has the California Air Force base named after him.

So if I eliminate Calhoun and Taft, it means we have five senators already listed, so who else would I add to this distinguished group?

I would add Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, an abolitionist and radical Republican during Reconstruction after the Civil War, and a major figure even before the Civil War.

Also, I would easily add Senator George Norris of Nebraska, who served in the Senate for 30 years and became famous, along with Robert LaFollette, Sr., as a progressive promoting basic, fundamental change in domestic affairs. He was a very inspiring figure, who I wrote about in my book on Progressive Republicans and the New Deal.

The remaining three would come from the second half of the 20th century, which does not yet have a person on the list acknowledged by the Senate itself.

They would be first, Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, the great liberal who also served as Vice President under Lyndon Johnson and lost the Presidency to Richard Nixon in 1968. He was a very inspiring and original legislator who became my political hero as a young man, and first got me interested in politics.

I would also add Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas, later our 36th President, after serving as Vice President under John F. Kennedy. As Senate Majority Leader in the 1950s, he set a standard that has never been matched, in accomplishing an agenda, and his experience benefited him and us in the promotion of the Great Society in the 1960s.

And I would add, as the tenth and last name, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who also served longer than any of the others on the list and had a massive positive impact on our nation.

Now I also want to add an 11th person, as someone who might someday be added to the list or even replace one of them. That would be Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, one of the longest serving with his 36 years, and serving as Chair of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committee during his long career in the upper chamber, until he became Vice President under President Obama this year.

This is obviously a subject of debate, but I will stand by this list against all comers! 🙂

The Death Of Ted Kennedy An Immense Loss! :(

The death of Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts late last evening is an immense loss to the nation.

Kennedy certainly had his critics and naysayers, and not all of the criticism is undeserved.

This man was exasperating much of the time in his personal life, particularly when he was middle aged and stupid and reckless, as for instance when he was driving drunk in Martha’s Vineyard, and drove his car into a canal at Chappaquiddick, nearly causing his own drowning death, and actually causing the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, who was with him at a party he should not have been at, since he was a married man. Many have said he murdered her, but that is not true, but still his wild, reckless behavior is rightfully condemned.

Ted often seemed undirected, as when he decided to challenge President Carter in 1980, and yet could not explain WHY he wanted to be President. That, plus the fact that the Chappaquiddick affair besmirched his reputation for all time, prevented him from ever reaching the Presidency.

But after continuing to womanize, drink too heavily, and divorce the mother of his three children, he finally grew up and married his second wife in 1992, and that seemed to stabilize his existence, and one could say that FINALLY at age 60, he grew up and began to act responsibly.

At the same time that Ted misbehaved in a horrible way for so many years, he also dedicated himself to a life’s work fighting for the poor, the disadvantaged, the sick, the elderly, the working people, and racial and ethnic minorities. He headed the Judiciary Committee and later the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, fought for a higher minimum wage and education reform, and promoted the concept of universal health care, his last great battle of many in the Senate.

He managed to make friends of Republican colleagues, who often fought him on many issues, but respected him greatly despite their ideological differences. Among those he worked well with were Arizona Senator John McCain and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch.

Kennedy gained the name LION OF THE SENATE, and he is going to be much missed by all of his Senate colleagues who knew him to be a man of great energy and tremendous commitment to the causes he believed in.

Kennedy also did many small deeds in his home state of Massachusetts and in the city of Washington, DC, without wanting attention or publicity to be brought to his activities, such as reading to elementary school classes in the capital city and visiting hospitals.

He was constantly in the limelight, but did not seek constant attention, and always demonstrated a good sense of humor and tons of compassion, seeing his luck of being born wealthy as the opportunity to serve others and give back to the nation.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once stated that a person who dedicates his life to those less fortunate is more to be remembered and revered, than one who spends his lifetime enriching himself and displaying greed and lack of concern for those below him. This is the true meaning of our existence, and our western religions teach that we should follow the road of compassion, concern, and good deeds and not be greedy, selfish, or self centered.

Ted Kennedy was a great servant to his country and the world, and he is really irreplaceable.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that Ted Kennedy will be ranked as one of the most prominent, influential senators of all time, certainly in the top ten of our history since 1789, and as the giant of the last 30 years in particular, for sure. He might have been in opposition most of the time with Republican Presidents, but he still left a heavy footprint on his times and provided us with an amazing legacy.

It can be hoped that his death will promote a substantial reform of health care in his honor, and because it is right to bring about such a change.

He will be buried alongside his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, so Americans will be able to visit and come to realize the tremendous impact this family had on American history.

Ted, we will never forget you, and may you rest in peace!

Senator Ted Kennedy Dies

I woke up this morning to the inevitable, but still shocking, news that the greatest Senator of our time, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, had passed away overnight from a brain tumor.

My emotions about this are very strong, and it is obvious that this is a great loss for the nation, as well as the Kennedy family.

More will be said about this tragic event later today when I have time to reflect on what this man’s public career has meant to all of us, and what effect it might have on the future.