Noted on the passing of Edward M. Kennedy: who can possibly eulogize this man? After all, he gave what may well be the finest eulogy possible for his brother Bobby. Any good eulogy should, to my mind, capture something essential or instructive about the person being eulogized, impart the sense of loss at a new and painful vacancy in the lives of those left behind, and then impel these same folks to, as Joe Biden might put it: get up. Get back up. Keep going.
And so we have the text; EMK notes some of RFK’s own words on his father, and their relationship, their family dynamic in general, and then continues:
That is what Robert Kennedy was given. What he leaves to us is what he said, what he did, and what he stood for.
and then goes on to quote extensively from a fine speech that Bobby had made in 1966:
Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.
It’s stunning how the essential vocabulary of RFK echoes so strongly in the usage and rhythms that Obama uses in his best efforts. At any rate, EMK closes his eulogy of his brother with these lines that I can never quite believe he actually got through with a clear and reasonably even voice:
That is the way he lived. That is what he leaves us.
My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.
Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.
As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:
“Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not.”
Just an unbelievable piece of oratory in the worst possible moment of his life. If we have people in public, political life writing and delivering speeches like this today, I’m not sure who they are (barring one particularly prominent individual, that is). I don’t think you can possibly underestimate the advantage Obama’s oratorical skills bring to the table. And one hopes he’s about to start raining thunderstrokes down like Zeus from Olympus; he’d better be, if he wants anything approaching a substantive healthcare reform to move in the current environment.
Because, far from seeing Kennedy’s passing as a moment for reflection and renewed spirit of legislative compromise, the GOP sees and will use this event as a powerful lever to block legislation (Kennedy would have never -or- This bill is certainly not up to the standards of our departed friend, Ted Kennedy, and etc…) and/or try to ram a shoddy piece of work through in the later stages by affixing his name to it and hoping the Democrats can’t stand to vote “No.” Mark my words, they’ll do all this and worse, all the while decrying the Democratic party as waving the bloody shirt over Kennedy at any and all possible opportunities.
Not actually spoken during RFK’s eulogy (but apparently included in the prepared remarks) is this apt paragraph that, I think, rings as true today as it likely did 40 years ago, when these men were facing down a different, but seemingly insoluble, societal rift:
The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.