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Posts Tagged ‘Ted Kennedy’

You had to have been there to really understand.  The 1960’s were a different time in America, as different from the time before and as they are different from our present.  The 50’s were the post World War II recovery years, led by President Eisenhower, the former Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe.  He had been a five star Army general.  He was as solid as a rock and carefully guided the country through a transition from a  war-based economy to a normal civilian economy.  It was well planned and well executed.  It was tidy and predictable.  The country had returned to “normal”.  Except that for some, and eventually for many, “normal” was no longer good enough.

It was President John F. Kennedy who ignited the spark in his Inaugural Address when he challenged Americans to go beyond themselves, to enter the New Frontier, and “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.  An age of volunteerism was born.  The Peace Corps was created.  The Alliance for Progress was created. Human rights, and the lack of them, were being given front page notice.  Equality of all races was preached.  Equal opportunity was recognized as a right.  It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.  It was the dawn of the Hippie movement.  It was Woodstock.  Harmony and understanding, and justice for all.

The Kennedy brothers, John, Bobby, and Ted all worked together during the time of President Kennedy’s administration to effect social change in America.  A new vision had arisen in American society -partially initiated by the Kennedys, but it was also an upwelling of public spirit that infused the Kennedys as much as they infused the public. It was the age of Martin Luther King. It was the age of Freedom and Freedom Riders and Freedom marches.  The people of America had awakened from their slumber and realized that despite all the good things about America, the country still had a long way to go to fulfill the dreams of it founders, dreams of equality and liberty, and justice for all.

One by one these champions were assassinated by the foes of freedom.  First John, then Martin, then Bobby.  It remained for those who were left behind, people like Lyndon Johnson and Ted Kennedy to pick up the fallen torch and carry it forward.  And carry it they did, because it was really Lyndon Johnson and Ted Kennedy who, over the years, actually worked within the system to effect social change and justice in America.  They were not the men of the soaring visions and soaring rhetoric like those who had given their lives in the cause.  But they were true believers in these ideals and they willing to work tirelessly for years to bring about the change of the great American visionaries of the 60’s, and so the credit for so much that has been accomplished belongs not only to those who first enunciated the vision but to those who successfully struggled to see it accomplished.

Ted Kennedy was a true believer in those visions that arose in the 60’s, but he knew that the heart of those visions was not new.  It had been born in the suffering of his Irish ancestors who had undergone centuries of oppression, starvation, and theft of their land.  It had been born in the suffering of the African Americans who had undergone centuries of slavery, discrimination, prejudice, and denial of the rights of an American citizen.  It had been born in the stories of all of the world’s tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free,  who heard and heeded the call of Lady Liberty and believed in her torch that had been raised beside the Golden Door.

Ted Kennedy’s last great quest was to make health care recognized as a right for all people and not just a privilege.   It is an idea embodied in the Irish Constitution and is reflected in the governments and actions of most countries in the civilized world around the world today .  The exception, of course,  is the United States of America.

The last torch bearer of the 60’s has fallen at last, but as he said before he fell, the torch has already been passed.  Echoing the words of his brother, John, the torch has been passed to a new generation, led by President Obama.  It is now up to this generation to succeed or fail, to change America from being a land ruled by the wealthy elite to a land of freedom, equality, and justice for all.  The last of the great idealists of the 1960’s left us today. The choice is now ours.  Do we also pick up the torch and follow in Ted Kennedy’s footsteps?  Do we now truly rise up and follow our own human vision, informed by the great American visionaries of the past; or, our last hero fallen,  will we falter and fail, and be seduced by the wicked lies of those among us whose only God is gold.

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