Throughout my lifetime one or more the Kennedy brothers have held a high office and exercised significant political influence in our nation. With the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, an era comes to an end. Jack was the first Catholic to be elected president. Bobby became the clearest voice among top politicians for peace and social justi ce. Ted achieved the largest number of actual legislative accomplishments. That folk song, "Where are they ... John, Bobby and Martin" still brings tears to my eyes and causes my gut to clinch. If it were not for the Kennedy brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King, half our nation would still be without basic civil rights. That happened in my life time; I saw it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears!
The Kennedy's stood for something that is rare and almost dead in America today. They stood up for the weak, the poor, those unable to have a significant voice in how the money and power in this country is distributed. They were sons of one of the richest families in America. They need not have gone to the trouble. They could have lived comfortable lives or made billions on Wall Street or done anything they wanted to do. But they remembered their Irish immigrant grandparents who lived in an America where the Irish were not really "White." Where the Irish were discriminated against, kept in poverty and out of the circles of power. Catholics were feared by a majority Protestant America. Cities were feared by an America centered in small towns and rural farms.
More than the Clinton or Bush regimes, the Kennedys became an American dynasty for a simple reason; They gave their lives for their nation. An older brother (Joe Jr.) gave his life in combat in World War II. Jack and Bobby gave their lives to assassins. Ted gave his life, to the last drop, to serving the poor, the ethnic minorities, the forgotten and pushed-aside in America. Jack is famous for that almost-forgotten sentiment, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Some have tried to tie this to "personal responsibility," that sneaky little notion that allows the rest of us to wash our hands of the suffering of the least able among us. They forget that for the Kennedys this principle was tied to a Biblical notion, "To whom much is given, much is demanded."
The Kennedys believed and lived the simple notion that those with the greatest wealth, education and status should do more and give more to help the least-favored, the poorest, the most oppressed in our country and the world. You can bring up all their weaknesses; their drinking, their unsavory pals, Ted's involvement with the death of a young woman, Jack's womanizing and slowness to support the civil rights movement, and Bobby's political calculation as to when to come out against the Vietnam war. They were not perfect. They were flawed human beings. None of that takes away from their commitment to live their lives for "the least of these" as our Lord Jesus Christ asks for all believers. There are a great many who have never done anything as bad as the Kennedy brothers who have also never lived this fundamental commitment. Read Matthew 25:31-46 and you will see how God views the bottom line on this comparison.
It is my prayer that the next generation of Americans, the young adults who don't fully grasp why this is such an important moment to some of us old people, will rediscover the Kennedy ethic: Live life to the fullest and live it largely for those who have less than you do.