Better Than a President?

Like my cohorts I grew up with Ted Kennedy being part of the political landscape, taking his presence for granted in a way, and like so many others the news of his having a malignant brain tumor saddens me. I could indulge thoughts like what a pity or what a loss, but I’d rather celebrate his life, right now while he’s fit and aware, the way I would with any friend or family member.
This being a presidential season, I am even more struck by his contribution and achievement. He ran for president and didn’t make it, inviting the notion that he settled for second choice. On a personal level he may have, but on a national level it may be that his mark on the country was stronger than the one he might have made as president. Something about more than four decades in the senate do add up to a mighty legacy. Perhaps it doesn’t have the panache, the cachet, the exclusiveness of the presidency, but it underlines a steady effort, fighting on the side of those who have-not stretching the net that was to go towards them, reining in efforts to shorten or limit that net. He has stood as a bridge builder in an era of partisanship and can fondly be remembered for having integrity and principles.
Indeed, the presidency holds power, and the consequences of the current U.S. administration let us know how much, for it was powerful enough to sink American prestige and soil its moral standing. But the presidency is four years, a fraction of Kennedy’s service in the senate. More than that, it prompts us to recognize that in a democracy there are several seats of power, that in our American version, the legislative branch is meant to be as powerful as the executive–and the judicial for that matter. The presidency is the outer,visible locus of power, but it is not always the only one, nor the most influential in the long term. It all means that for anyone entertaining the slightest sense of pity, poor Ted Kennedy he didn’t get to be president, think again. By not giving up, by persisting in public service, by being the best senator he knew how, Ted Kennedy ended up contributing as least as much as his brothers Jack and Robert, and wielding an influence as least as equal as that of a president, and probably more salutary than some.
Al Gore discovered there’s more to power than being president, and in time so will Hillary Clinton along with whoever is not elected president next November.