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Edward Kennedy- The Last of the Genuine Liberals: A Cicero for Our Times

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Even as a relative outsider to this country in the 1980s, I observed with shock the frightful worship of crass materialism (recall the repugnant Spuds McKenzie), hateful rhetoric ("we begin bombing Moscow in 8 minutes" - Reagan, off-the-cuff), and glorification of ignorance while vilifying inquiry, knowledge and empathy - all these things that became the hallmark of the Reagan years. Even college campuses, normally safe precincts for debate and intellectual inquiry, became stagnant and fear-driven centers of right-wing indoctrination. Right before my eyes, this gave rise to the emergence of transplanted oddities such as Dinesh D'Souza and Ramesh Ponnuru (conservative defenders of America's imperial pillage and crimes around the world) even within the Indian fold.

It was often during those dark times when the multi-hued vision of a creatively diverse human future as envisioned by Rabindranath Tagore, my Universalist guru, seemed increasingly bleak that I felt impelled to write articles with the word Liberal scrawled big and bold across the top, with love and admiration, for all to see. Well, I never really wrote that Big, Liberal Essay (writing instead many smaller ones, spurred as I have been by the absolutely nightmarish, genocidal years of the criminal Bushco regime).

When the noble concepts of liberalism, social justice and welfare (and of course the absolutely taboo boogie word, socialism) were under terrible assault, trampled as they were by the repressive boots of corporate America and its operational wing, the mighty military complex (of which a conservative President, Eisenhower, had previously forewarned this nation), I watched Edward Kennedy (EK) give speeches during his 1980 Presidential campaign.

Ever since 1963, when I was quite young back in India, I had admired the youthful energy and magnetic charm of Ted's older brother, Jack. Later, while I discovered aspects of JFK that made him less than the tragic, heroic figure I had imagined him to be (such as launching American campaigns in Cuba, Vietnam, and across the world in the name of fighting Communism), I grew to think more favorably of his brother the Attorney General, RFK. RFK came across as closer to the common man, and appeared genuinely to want to do more to improve the venal racial divide in this country. It was also in 1980 that as a graduate student in this country, I first witnessed the political oratory of Edward Kennedy. While I held Jimmy Carter clearly in much higher regard than the entirely hollow one-liner expert Reagan, if for nothing else, then at least for his rhetoric on human rights- I was much more moved by Ted's words and passion. Here was someone, who I felt could hold an audience much like Martin Luther King, Jr. could. Someone articulate, expressive, intelligent, gifted and cerebral- a far cry from the mentally arrested, speech-impaired buffoon who, in a fitting legacy to the Reagan revolution, would steal his way to the mansion of American imperial power in 2000.

My first awareness of Senator Kennedy (as an adolescent) occurred in 1971 during the war of independence in Bangladesh, next-door neighbor to us Bengalis in West Bengal (WB), India. At the height of that conflict within the erstwhile East Pakistan, itself a creation of European imperial hubris, hundreds of thousands of refugees were fleeing the conflict and entering India through the borders of our state. The Indian government had set up extensive refugee camps to house the displaced thousands around the WB and Assam borders, and later had even set aside a track of land elsewhere in Dandakaranya. This to me was typical of India- taking in (more along the lines of the stated pledge of the Statue of Liberty) the dispossessed of the world over the millennia. During this refugee crisis, we heard that Senator Edward Kennedy was scheduled to visit the refugee camps. I still remember the respect and affection his visit generated in India, in sharp contrast with earlier visits by the likes of Robert McNamara, Henry Kissinger and others. I believe it is generally safe to say that human beings in large numbers around the world abhor and denounce warmongers and heartless profiteers, and embrace those who take a stand for the oppressed, the poor and the voiceless. Ted Kennedy was viewed in this light, a true Liberal if ever there was one.

It is true, of course, as Ralph Nader has been shouting in the wilderness for many years that the American two-party system is hardly a democracy by any measure. It is more aptly a duopoly. Even the latter is a charitable stretch. After all, very little political dissent is permitted in this country and we have seen the worst manifestation of this in the past 8 years of runaway Neocon atrocities. A political system where a third party (and God forbid, fourth, fifth, or more) is virtually non-existent, and representatives thereof are systematically left out of the political discourse or process is definitely not a democracy in my book. Additionally, the events since Selection 2000 have clearly confirmed Nader's view - the two political parties answer to one and the same Master - conjoined twins namedThe (private) Corporation and The Military establishment. Even after the people handed the Democrats sizable majorities both in 2006 and 2008, with the express desire to bring accountability to the massive criminal offenses perpetrated upon the world by the Bushco gang - the Democrats have proven to be callous, ineffective, and even outright partners-in-crime to the Bushco mafia. The actions of Diane Feinstein, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the coerced inaction of John Conyers, Henry Waxman and the like all attest to the corporate control over any shred of morality, decency or humanity in many of these individuals.

It is for the above, glaring reasons that I appended the title Last of the Genuine Liberals upon Edward Kennedy. Other than a handful of others (such as Dennis Kucinich and Russ Feingold), the vast majority of the others are shameless corporate cronies, deep inside the pockets of bribery, hush-money and lobbyist funding. From this perspective, honestly, even Barack Obama (BO, whom EK endorsed even as he was dying, less than a year ago) and Eric Holder have been deeply disappointing thus far in their almost resounding endorsement of corporate America, bailing out the Wall Street crooks, and now rolling back virtually all promises on such Liberal agenda as Universal Health Care, holding the previous gang of crooks accountable for war crimes and violations of the Constitution, and complete military withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. If anything, as many will rightly claim, BO and his team have so far even extended the U.S. military aggression in parts of the world, including deeply inhuman and morally repugnant drone attacks upon human beings half a world away.

Packaged with all his human faults, Edward Kennedy was a genuine Liberal, albeit with elite bloodlines established by the questionable power brokerage, for example, of his father. Compared with his classic pro-labor, pro-welfare, pro-enhanced minimum wage, pro-Union and other such clearly blue-collar positions, I believe the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and the vast majority of modern-day Democrats are truly as some call them, DINOs (Democrats in Name Only).

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I recall rooting for EK to win the Democratic nomination in 1980, even if I did admire Jimmy Carter, as mentioned. I was quite saddened when that did not happen. Of course, this became almost a pattern over the years, most recently when Dennis Kucinich was even denied a place on the platform when the presidential candidates engaged in dog-and-pony events on the corporate entertainment shows called Presidential Debates. The rules and processes of American electoral exercises are shameful and atrocious, controlled as they are by big money and entrenched propaganda. There is nothing honorable about any of this, and the best in this country never even have a chance.

True, on occasion a pure blue collar grassroots figure rises to some height even here, someone like a Paul Wellstone, but that is so very rare. And we can well imagine how overwhelming a challenge it must be for someone like Barney Frank and Bernie Sanders to achieve electoral success while submerged in this political cesspool. Not surprisingly, both of these stalwarts are from the Liberal Northeast.

Much is being made of EK's efforts at bipartisanship. This is actually deeply disingenuous. You cannot be bipartisan with warmongering xenophobes - and if you are - then it is capitulation. I do not imply that EK acted this way. I like to believe he applied his principles and convictions as much as possible. Recall the 8+ years (much more if we count back to 1994, the dreaded year of the so-called Gingrich revolution) of the right-wing majority - who can ever forget a mean-spirited, ideologically rigid and civilly stone-deaf Sensenbrenner gaveling down a session of Congress when the opposition was speaking and walk away! Who will forget John Conyers holding an investigative hearing on the Attorney firings down in the basement of Congress! And people actually manage to speak of bipartisanship! Is nothing ever learned?

I am greatly relieved to know that EK voted strongly against the illegal, immoral and genocidal attack upon Iraq. That is much more than could ever be said about most of his colleagues in the Legislature, including Hillary, Kerry and so many others. These (relatively) low-grade politicians know a great bit about political expediency and phony muscle-flexing, even if it is morally repugnant and deeply, deeply inhuman. If there is one thing I am still unhappy about, and I tell my young son about this- it is that people here and around the world, those who had the capacity to make a huge difference, people such as Edward Kennedy, still did not do enough to stop the imperial genocide that occurred right under their watch. Such individuals can initiate a great impact by doing something symbolically phenomenal. And, given their stature, they would have simply nothing to lose. I would have liked to see someone like a Ted Kennedy (or, with much lesser expectation, say, a Colin Powell), for example, resign from their powerful position in protest of the criminal atrocities, court arrest, and then join a sustained campaign against military-driven state terrorism. Perhaps something that Gandhi would do. But none of this happened. No significant person in this country - no politician, no scientist, no powerful academic, no cultural figure came forward to do this great act of conscience.

Of course, the same barbaric right-wing with regards to which some tout the principle of bipartisanship, slandered EK to no end. I have heard about Chappaquiddick ad nauseam, and, while no one will condone such events, or such tendencies on his part as excessive drinking, bar-hopping, or any of the other elitist excesses- these were stillthe human flaws that are, and always have been, very much a part of being human. The great difference, at the end of the day, between the Liberal approach to human frailties and that of the right-wing morality peddlers, is the hypocrisy factor. The morality peddlers simply put on phony acts of piety and words of religious fervor, all the while violating sometimes even simple measures of decency and humanity, and then doing their utmost to ignore or rationalize their transgressions. The examples of these are staggering and mind-boggling. Think of Sarah Palin, family values, teenage pregnancy - all of these at once. Think of Henry Hyde, the impeachment manager, all up in arms about a President's affair (couched under "lying under oath", an act that the dimwitted Commander in Thief evaded innumerable times by simply avoiding any remote kind of deposition under oath for his crimes of Himalayan proportions) - then later excusing his own revealed affair from his 40s as youthful indiscretion. And the list of such phony pieties is simply endless. Then there are also these right-wingers that appear to harp on EK's privileged upbringing as contradicting his work on behalf of the poor and disinherited. The truth is simply that the right-wing is packed from top to bottom with the privileged, country club types. And as though a privileged person is not entitled to take a stand on behalf of the poor and oppressed in society. I sometimes believe that the right-wing anger at white establishment Liberal figures is really a reaction to such people who espouse racial equality, social justice, and world peace. This is simply because such positions somehow threaten the established security of the imperial, racially pure state that holds, or has held a chokehold on the human world for centuries. And threatening the status quo is almost always scary.

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I realize that there are Liberal thinkers and scholars with far more egalitarian and broadly sympathetic views and ideas than EK had or applied. Then there are also Liberals of the type such as Alexander Cockburn that to my great consternation never fails to apply the shock factor, for instance, to skewer EK in the harshest terms as he has just done, while at the same time offering great plaudits to Robert Novak, going as far as describing his exposure of Valerie Plame's identity as the watershed moment of his journalistic career. I will honestly never understand the Liberal/Progressive/Left Wing views of Cockburn in that sometimes it is truly difficult to reconcile his aggressive positions w.r.t. decent (if flawed) Liberals, while offering favorable booms to someone (such as Novak) whose war-mongering positions, in my view, contributed further to the genocide in Iraq by emboldening the Bushco mafia. At times, I do not see this pattern as being objective, as some might argue, but more sensational.

So EK never became President, and if he had, we will never know if he might have met the same brutal fate as his two gifted brothers before him. We will likewise never know if he would pursue the same aggressive, often genocidal foreign policy with corporate imperialism that has defined most American Presidents. What I would conjecture is that EK would at least generate the kind of love and admiration around the world that was an easy arena for his illustrious brothers. In a world so lacking in goodwill, that alone is an amazing starting point for the leader of a mighty, Goliath nation that can destroy far more readily than it can rebuild or nurture.


Monish R. Chatterjee received the B.Tech. (Hons) degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from I.I.T., Kharagpur, India, in 1979, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering, from the University of Iowa, Iowa (more...)

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