The news came out of the Kennedy compound Tuesday night. Teddy was dead.
You don't hear much about "compounds" anymore, they seem like a relic of a bygone era, like the "trusts" and "robber barons' that generated the loot that built them.
People who knew him better and admired him more will write his eulogy. That's not my purpose here. I agreed with him often, disagreed some, admired much of what he stood for and considered him a flawed, shambling wreck of a patriarch who had much more excuse than most for being that way.
If I'd lost everyone I loved to assassin's bullets and bad piloting I'd probably get fat, drink too much, and cat around with random women just like Edward Kennedy, though I hope I'd have the sense to use my chauffer when I mixed them.
But there is much to mourn here, more than a fallen Senator who did far more good in his public life than the harm he did in private. What died Tuesday was an era in American politics, the kind of liberalism and spirit of public service that came out of "compounds."
Back in the sixties, when I was the radical who knew absolutely everything and wasn't shy about admitting it, I said a few wrong things. I wouldn't take back most of what I said or believed in those days, history has been kind to most of our causes and what was radical then is Middle America now, but there is one thing I believed that was particularly stupid.
"Never trust anyone fighting against anyone's oppression but their own." We said that because we believed that the "liberals" will betray you when the sh*t came down. Plus we liked to act oppressed.
That was wrong, it was youthful arrogance and posturing. We mistook selfishness for purity. There is nothing more noble than fighting to help people who are less free than you. Even if you have little connection to those people, even if your "interests" and theirs don't coincide. You may do it for reasons of guilt or vanity, but it is a noble act nonetheless and not an easy one.
When "society" and the bankers and the reactionaries wanted to damn FDR's soul in the strongest terms possible they called him 'A traitor to his own class." That was the nastiest thing they could say about him.
FDR came from privilege when privilege knew they ruled by the grace of God. To folks in that class, you and me and everyone reading this blog were peons, beneath notice, "the help." Yet Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a man of the "compounds," fought from his wheelchair to make us a little more equal, a little more free, and a lot more secure.
Ted Kennedy, born in a compound built on the crimes of a bootlegger father turned isolationist and apologist for fascism, a rich, privileged playboy who could have spent his life being nothing more, died Tuesday, the last of his kind.
He fought all his life for the interests of people he could have bought and sold. He helped the disabled, the aged, the sick, the poor. He had no compunction about taxing the rich. He was a traitor to his class.
And that's the nicest thing I can say about him.