Liberal lions don’t die
“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.” Ted Kennedy spoke those words upon conceding the 1980 Democratic Presidential nomination to then-President Jimmy Carter. That speech was a barn-burner if ever there was one, and years later, those words rank among the most famous in American political lore. There is wisdom in those words, and as some have begun to question whether or not Massachusetts is losing its national voice, Massachusetts residents would do well to make those words their mantra.
Our commonwealth finds itself in an unusual state of flux. Kennedy is dead. A bare majority of Massachusetts voters saw it fit to replace him with Scott Brown, a man who embodies an ideology which Kennedy fought his entire life. As a result of a residential migration elsewhere, the state population is decreasing. As such, Massachusetts will in all likelihood lose at least one member of its Congressional delegation pending a final tally of the 2010 Federal Census. This fall, Governor Deval Patrick will ask the voters for a second chance in the batter’s box. Whether voters give it to him is still uncertain.
In times like these, it’s understandable that pundits would start railing on across all media platforms about the diminishing importance of Massachusetts’ voice on issues of national importance. They will cite the loss of Kennedy as insurmountable. John Kerry has done a lot of good for this state, and his intellect, drive, ethics and record of service to this state and to this nation deserves equal recognition. But he is now our lone voice in the Senate for the issues which matter most to us, for make no mistake: Scott Brown does not represent our interests or values.
Kennedy was a warrior for the middle and lower classes, and not just in this state, but across the country. With one less Democratic voice in the Senate, and with the knowledge that soon it will lose one more, it’d be easy for Massachusetts to hang back from the spotlight for a while, wrestling with issues of identity.
How important are we? Are we really just a bunch of self-indulgent, self-important liberal softies? We’re just one state (one of the smaller ones, in fact), so why should we try to bend the course and content of national dialogue and policy towards our desired ends?
Why? Because of who we are. Because of what we represent. Massachusetts has never been afraid to lead – to take the political leap while other states remained shackled to the outdated dogmas and modes of contemporary political thought. Because of what Ted taught us about compassion, dedication and faith that we are right, and that America will follow in our footsteps.
Our unemployment rate is significantly below the national average, our equal rights movement is now gaining traction in other states, our senior senator is the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and our use of federal stimulus money is paying for the sort of clean, efficient light rail system that will serve as a national standard for energy conservation and job creation.
So are we losing our voice? The answer is an unequivocal no. We are not, and we cannot. Senator Brown’s victory was an electoral leg-jerk that came as the result of a perfect storm of political mismanagement on the part of Martha Coakley’s incompetent campaign and a general sense of liberal disaffection with the electoral process, but it demonstrated that Massachusetts is determined to remain a player in national politics.
Massachusetts has certainly suffered a set-back in its quest to remain a leader on issues of national debate. Ted Kennedy was not only effective in steering federal dollars towards the commonwealth’s bevy of social welfare and educational programs, but served the nation as a de facto spokesperson for the poor, the unemployed, the unions, the sick and the needy. He embodied a spirit of service and compassion that few could recreate, but one which all should strive to. Such a leader cannot easily be replaced.
But we must move forward. Massachusetts cannot shirk its responsibility as an unabashedly progressive, rational and decisive voice amidst the sea of backwards, uninformed and obstructionist voices which have hijacked the national political scene of late. This is not a responsibility we owe to ourselves, and not a responsibility we should maintain as a means of honoring our late Senator’s legacy.
This is a responsibility we must continue because it has always been ours. At the end of the day, our progress will be marked by our action, not those of our elected officials. They are our voice when we have other business to attend to. With the loss of our liberal lion, and with the ascension of a conservative hawk to replace him, we must be our national voice.
28 years after his concession speech at the Democratic National Convention, a cancer-stricken Teddy took the stage to pass the Kennedy torch to an inspirational and like-minded young politician who was seeking the presidency. After an impassioned speech, the elder statesman assured us that despite his weakened condition, and despite all of our national setbacks under the Bush Administration, the work begins anew.
The hope rises again, and the dream lives on. Not just words for us to agree with as Massachusetts citizens, but words for us to live by. For this has always been and must continue to be our contribution to national politics. This must be our legacy.
Charlie Felder is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.