He was as good at being a United States Senator as anyone ever has been. And by my lights, he was not only good at it—smart, skilled, and crafty—but also good: a liberal with a proudly bleeding heart, leading one fight after another for the needs of the disenfranchised. In a long, fascinating 2003 profile in the Boston Globe, Charles P. Pierce quotes Kennedy's former chief of staff Bancroft Littlefield, Jr.
This is a guy who, the first thing he did in the Senate was take on the poll tax
I've read a few profiles like that one over the years, and two things strike me.
First, it's impossible to resist the idea that he worked hard because the shades of the dead were watching, both the brothers he had to measure up to and the woman to whom he owed a debt.
Second, there's a fascination to his tirelessness at the sheer mechanics of playing a role like his: endless little bits of Taking Care of Business, like this moving story:
On the morning of the day before the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin, Senator Ted Kennedy called the White House to inquire if it was appropriate to bring to the burial some earth from Arlington National Cemetery. The answer was essentially a shrug: Who knows? Unadvised, the senator carried a shopping bag onto the plane, filled with earth he had himself dug the afternoon before from the graves of his two murdered brothers. And at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, after waiting for the crowd and the cameras to disperse, he dropped to his hands and knees, and gently placed that earth on the grave of the murdered prime minister.
The glee of Senator Kennedy’s enemies and ours will be unbounded over the next few days. I’m sure the birfers, astroturfers, industry shills, talibangelicals, Blue Dog DINOs, glibertarians, neocons, and general malefactors of great wealth will weep crocodile tears as they lament that Teddy’s death should not be used as an opportunity by crass liberals to pass the kind of serious health care reform he spent the last thirty years championing. And that, my friends and President Obama, is why it’s time to come back after Labor Day with a single coherent Senator Edward M. Kennedy Health Care Reform Bill, and to twist whatever arms, ears, or other parts are necessary to get a good strong comprehensive bill passed and signed, NOW. We owe the memory of a great man no less.