Edward M. Kennedy, 1932-2009

kennedy_20090826To the nation, Ted Kennedy was a symbol — an icon of progressivism or an avatar of evil. To those of us lucky to be his constituents, he was a regular guy who went about the mundane business of representing his state with diligence, seriousness and joy. Or so I argue in the Guardian, in a piece I wrote over the weekend in anticipation of this sad moment.

Kennedy was a good senator and a fine but flawed man. He has been dying for more than a year, and I’m not sure there’s a lot more to say at this point. Unlike his brothers, Ted Kennedy had the good fortune to receive all his accolades while he was still alive — including, most recently, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Although word of the senator’s death was unwelcome, it was a pleasure to see Marty Nolan’s byline gracing the front of the Boston Globe today.

A minor aside: I wonder if WBZ-TV (Channel 4) will go ahead with its Boston mayoral debate, currently scheduled for today at 7 p.m.? Not only would no one be watching, but I can’t imagine WBZ wants to hold moderator Jon Keller out of its Kennedy coverage.

Note: This item has been corrected.

Update: The mayoral debate has been postponed, according to a statement by WBZ spokeswoman Ro Dooley-Webster. She writes: “Jon Keller is in touch with the campaigns, and they are working to find a date when the debate can be rescheduled.”

Update II: The debate will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 2, from 7 to 8 p.m. on WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and WBZ Radio (AM 1030).

Photo taken from Kennedy’s Senate Web site, kennedy.senate.gov.

Democracy and the Senate (III)

Not a bad idea: the New York Times, in disparaging Ted Kennedy’s proposal that an interim senator be appointed who’d serve during the five months before a special election could be held, suggests instead that the special election be moved up.

Although I don’t have a problem with Kennedy’s idea, the Times’ solution sounds pretty good, too. Instead of five months, why not six weeks?

Democracy and the Senate (II)

The notion that the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald represent ideologically opposite editorial positions is overblown. The Herald and its editorial-page editor, Rachelle Cohen, aren’t really all that conservative. And the Globe, whose editorial page recently transitioned from longtime editor Renée Loth to former Washington-bureau chief Peter Canellos, is just contrarian enough on issues like charter schools to keep liberals agitated.

An exception is today. The Globe offers its full-throated endorsement to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s proposal that would allow Gov. Deval Patrick to name an interim senator in the event of a vacancy. The interim would serve until a special election could be held five months later. With Kennedy’s battle against brain cancer apparently entering its final stages, the matter has taken on special urgency.

In supporting Kennedy’s proposal, the Globe criticizes the Legislature for having taken the gubernatorial appointment away five years ago, when it appeared that Sen. John Kerry might be elected president and Democratic leaders at the Statehouse did not want then-governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, to name Kerry’s successor. The Globe calls the 2004 law “a partisan bill.”

Which, of course, it was. And which leads the Herald to invoke that same 2004 action as a reason to reject Kennedy’s current proposal, in an editorial headlined “Hypocrisy factor.” Continue reading “Democracy and the Senate (II)”

Democracy and the Senate

Ted Kennedy, battling brain cancer, strikes exactly the right balance in his letter (pdf) to state officials on how his seat in the U.S. Senate should be filled.

In a story broken by the Boston Globe’s Frank Phillips, Kennedy endorses a 2004 law that took away the governor’s ability to fill a Senate vacancy and gave it to the voters instead. But Kennedy also calls for an amendment allowing the governor to appoint an interim senator who would serve during the five-month period preceding the special election. Finally, Kennedy suggests that the governor appoint someone who promises not to seek election.

The law was changed five years ago when it looked like Sen. John Kerry might be elected president. Legislative leaders wanted to make sure that then-governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, would not have the ability to choose Kerry’s successor. Once and future Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom refers to that on Twitter today:

Wishing Dems now calling for Gov to appt Kennedy replacement stood with Romney in 2004 when they took that power away from him.

(Fun random fact: I ran into Fehrnstrom on the summit of Mt. Monadnock recently.)

But Democrats did the right thing then, even if it was for partisan reasons. As Kennedy suggests, they should leave the law alone, but not let the seat go unfilled for five months.

The wisdom of the 2004 law was proved after President Obama’s election last fall. First, then-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich disgraced himself and his office by putting Obama’s Senate seat up for sale — an action that led to federal corruption charges against him. The appointment went to the supposedly incorruptible Roland Burris, who turned out to be highly tainted himself.

Then, after Obama named Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York as his secretary of state, Gov. Donald Paterson turned the appointment of a successor into a circus, using anonymous aides to smear Caroline Kennedy, who wanted the job but was clearly unprepared. The post eventually went to an obscure Albany-area congresswoman, Kirsten Gillenbrand.

No one is suggesting that Gov. Deval Patrick would pull a Blago or even a Paterson. But senators should be elected, not appointed, as has been the case since the 17th Amendment took effect in 1913. Kennedy’s proposal honors that proposition while plugging an unnecessary gap.

Photo of Kennedy (cc) by Will White and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

The Globe’s Kennedy book makes a splash

“Last Lion,” the book version of the Boston Globe’s series on Ted Kennedy, edited by Washington bureau chief Peter Canellos, will be number seven on the New York Times’ bestseller list next week. I never cease to be amazed at how much appetite there is out there for material about the Kennedy family.

Further thoughts on the Ted Kennedy series

Last week I wrote about why I wasn’t reading the Boston Globe’s series on the life and career of Ted Kennedy. Today I want to explain why I think the Globe was smart to take on such a project.

One of the major challenges facing newspapers these days is figuring out how to draw traffic over a long period of time. Readers do not spend as much time with an online paper as they do with a print edition. When a news organization puts a lot of effort into a project, it makes sense to present it in such a way that readers will come back to it several times, and that other readers will discover it long after it’s been published.

With its skillfully done multimedia presentation, the Globe has ensured that the series will draw people in for some time to come. Though we might wish it were otherwise, Sen. Kennedy has come to the end of his life, even if he is able to enjoy some productive weeks and months ahead. When he passes on, the Globe series will stand as an important resource.

And it’s not just the text. Through historical front pages, political cartoons and video, the Globe has fleshed out its series in ways that words alone would not be able to accomplish. I’ve had a chance to watch a few of the videos. The video that accompanies Chapter 2 (produced by Ann Silvio), on the death of Robert Kennedy, is particularly moving. There’s a sequence in which Walter Mondale tries to recall Ted Kennedy’s words at the funeral, spliced with the actual eulogy, that will send shivers up your spine.

The Globe also deserves credit, at this delicate moment, for serving readers rather than the Kennedys. Last week the Boston Herald’s “Inside Track” reported, “Word on the Hill is that some Kennedy staffers are quite unhappy with the series, finding it far too critical of Ted.”

Indeed, in reading bits and pieces of the series, I was struck by how unsparing it was with respect to Kennedy’s behavior in the Chappaquiddick affair, and with his drinking and womanizing — problems he has long since put behind him, but which remain an important part of his story.

So when Kennedy agreed to talk with my former Boston Phoenix colleague Mark Leibovich of the New York Times over the weekend, I took it as a bit of puckish revenge on Kennedy’s part. After all, Kennedy had refused to speak to the Globe.

My friend the Outraged Liberal suggests that there must be some long faces at 135 Morrissey Blvd. over being bigfooted by their larger corporate cousin. Mr. O.L. may be right. But I’d say the Globe ought to take Kennedy’s interview with the Times as a signal that it had been appropriately tough.

Taking a pass on the Ted Kennedy series

No, I’m not reading the Boston Globe’s Ted Kennedy series, either. As a 50-something political junkie, I don’t need yet another overview of Kennedy’s life and career, no matter how comprehensive and well-executed it is. And I’ll assume it’s quite good.

For me, the more interesting question is this: Who’s the intended audience? Clearly the timing is based on Kennedy’s terminal illness. Kennedy has been much in the news, and there are probably a lot of younger people out there who don’t know that much about him.

Can the Globe lure the under-30s in with an effort like this? I suspect it’s a tough sell, although anyone who doesn’t know much about Kennedy ought to spend some time with the Globe series.

Not to be morbid, but the Globe has also positioned itself well for Kennedy’s death, both with its online multimedia package and an accompanying book, “Last Lion,” edited by Washington bureau chief Peter Canellos.

But I agree with Mr. Outraged Liberal: Right now, the series isn’t generating any buzz at all.

Accurate, but almost certainly not true

If the New York Times doesn’t want to run with something it can’t confirm, I’ve got no problem with that. Still, it’s a little unsettling to see the paper go with the patently ludicrous explanation from “a person told of her decision” that Caroline Kennedy is dropping out of the running for the U.S. Senate because of Ted Kennedy’s illness.

The New York Post, citing anonymous sources, reports that Kennedy withdrew after she learned that New York Gov. David Paterson wasn’t going to pick her.

Ted Kennedy has been fighting terminal brain cancer for months. His seizure yesterday, while scary, changes nothing.

It’s been obvious for some time now that Caroline Kennedy wasn’t going to the Senate. I guess her uncle’s health problems gave her a graceful exit. But that doesn’t mean the Times has to play along.

Good news about Ted Kennedy?

Yes, according to Boston.com. Reportedly his seizure today was brought on by simple exhaustion.

Meanwhile, the Charleston Gazette reports that Robert Byrd, initially thought to have taken ill as well, left the luncheon because he was upset about Kennedy’s collapse.

Kennedy’s health scare is a serious down note on an otherwise glorious day. Media Nation extends its best wishes to the senator and his family.

Kennedy’s dramatic speech

We won’t have a more dramatic moment all week than Ted Kennedy’s speech. I was stunned — I figured he’d wave and say a couple of words. Instead, he delivered one of his patented stem-winders.

If his health continues to improve, it’s easy to imagine his returning to the Senate next January, as he vowed to do.