Looking back on it now, the timing seems downright Shakespearean. Almost a year to the day after he stunned the Democratic establishment by endorsing Barack Obama for President, and barely hours after watching his protegé take the oath of office on the steps of the Capitol–an oath that, but for his endorsement, might well have been taken by someone else–Ted Kennedy collapsed while attending a celebratory inaugural luncheon.
And so, as the hopeful neophyte assumed power during turmoil of historic proportions–turmoil that would repeatedly require expert coordination between the executive and legislative branches of government–the new President’s political patron, the legendary legislator whose longevity and prowess earned him the moniker “Lion of the Senate,” was wheeled away on a stretcher, shortly to learn that his life would soon be coming to an end.
The absence of Ted Kennedy, and the tragedy in the timing of his demise, comes to mind as I watch the absurd debt ceiling spectacle now underway in Washington. As our President tries to squeeze a few droplets of sanity out of sense-parched Republican legislators–and as he endures the anger of his own base for a seemingly gutless propensity to capitulate, only to have Republican legislators give him the figurative finger–I can’t help indulging the wistful notion that in this and other legislative crises, Barack Obama would be bolder, stronger, and more successful with Ted Kennedy’s behind-the-scenes advice and his out-in-the-open advocacy.
It’s easy, I know, to imagine a scenario better than the present, and it’s easy, too, to attribute more power and influence to a deceased politician than he or she actually possessed while alive. But given the patently mediocre measure of the combatants in our current legislative catfight, imagining a better result with The Lion in the fray hardly seems fanciful.
Barack Obama needed Ted Kennedy to win the Presidency. He needs him, now, even more. We all do.