Thursday, August 27, 2009

The U.S. Senate Won't Be The Same

Previously posted May 8, 2008:

We were standing in an anteroom of a Senate hearing room in the Hart Senate Office Building some years back when Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy walked in.

Instantly, there was a surge of energy in the room, and although the room was filled with Republican senators waiting for the start of a hearing in the adjacent committee room, all eyes turned toward him, and every one broke into a smile, anticipating a bellowing greeting or a story that gave tribute to his Irish heritage.

He took a quick scan of the room, ignored his colleagues and walked toward us, sticking out his hand: “I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.”

Foote Loose

We said we were from Memphis and were waiting for one of our state’s senators to join us.

“You’re from Memphis?” he said, without allowing enough hesitation for an answer. “Do you know my old friend, Shelby Foote? He’s spent time with us in the summer.”

Then, shifting easily into an uncanny impersonation of the Memphis author’s distinctive drawl and magnolia-drenched speaking style, he said: “Can you give me a glass of branch water with two fingers of bourbon?”


The impersonation brought down the house (or the Senate, as the case may be), because Foote’s highly personalized speaking style had by then become almost as well-known as his remarkable three-volume of the Civil War, thanks to his starring role in Ken Burn’s PBS series.

After a few pleasantries, he was gone, stepping into the meeting room where he was immediately surrounded by admirers and seekers of favors.

We’d never seen him before, and we’ve never seen him since, but we can still hear that Shelby Foote imitation as clearly as the day he delivered it. It was dead-on.

God’s Will (Not)

We’ve thought of it often this week as we heard that Senator Kennedy had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Despite uplifting, optimistic statements from his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, his prognosis is grim. And he no doubt knows it.

As television news crews fought to fill the airtime, they almost seemed willing to put on any talking head who was available. One of them, in an attempt to explain the inexplicable, referred to it as “God’s will,” conjuring up memories of pastor cum politician Hubon Sandridge referring to God’s purpose in the aftermath of the horrific murders on Lester Street.

Nothing Divine About It

Maybe, if nothing else, Senator Kennedy’s disease could inspire a moratorium on the obscene use of God’s name to justify all manner of tragedies and diseases. In this vein, there’s no better time to be reminded of the eloquent eulogy by Rev. William Sloane Coffin upon the death of his son, Alex:

“Nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn't go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is dead set against all unnatural deaths, and Christ spent an inordinate amount of time delivering people from paralysis, insanity, leprosy, and muteness.

“Which is not to say that there are no nature-caused deaths. I can think of many right here in this parish in the five years I've been here — deaths that are untimely and slow and pain-ridden, which for that reason raise unanswerable questions, and even the specter of a Cosmic Sadist, yes, even an Eternal Vivisector.

“The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is ‘It is the will of God.’ Never do we know enough to say that. My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over his sinking car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break.”

There’s little question that it broke again this week.


Anonymous said...

While many (esp left leaning ones) are praising Kennedy for being idealistic and caring about people and as a great orator, I believe that his biggest role was as an expert in the art of legislating.

He knew the fine arts of "sausage making," to keep working relationships with those with whom he disagreed and to do the fine points of making deals, compromises, and then sticking with the deal to get it through the system.

This is something that has been out of fashion since Reagan but is a cornerstones of our lawmaking processor over 200 years.

We really need more legislators who can do this, especially on the "R" side. When supposedly respected Senators like Grassley of Iowa stand up and use outright fabrications to invoke a fear of healthcare reform, things are not good.

Anonymous said...

>>>that when the waves closed over his sinking car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break

You've published that twice? Twice? In regard to Ted Kennedy? And the irony -- not to say profanity -- of the allusion hasn't occurred to you yet? If Ted Kennedy had been a resident of ANY two-party state, he would have been charged with and convicted of manslaughter.

Seriously, is this from The Onion?

antisocialist said...

Smart City Consulting said...

Please. Get over your conspiracies and your left-wingers under every bed. There are any number of people who should be indicted or prosecuted...Dick Cheney for one.

Historians have said that he is perhaps the best senator in history, so it's hardly relevant to what we were writing about. It's interesting how the worst moments of an individual's life is so often used to define their whole lives by those who never understand the concept of redemption

Anonymous said...

Ted Kennedy best senator in history ... Dick Cheney should be indicted ... what, nothing about even ONE of Sarah Palin's kids? Sheesh, it's the Daily Kos as far as politics goes on this blog.

And what conspiracies? Anti socialist cites NPR, that well-known nest of radical right-wingers.

Smart City Consulting said...

Puh-lease. We don't have time to beat these old dead horses. Sorry to have yielded to temptation.
As for the Daily Kos, we think it's too conservative.

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