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).