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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wrapping up Ted Kennedy

I'm not sure why it happens, but for some reason, the only news we
hear about the Kennedys is bad. You can read all the books you want;
every single tome is less a biography than a series of unfortunate
events, featuring plane crashes, premature deaths and social diseases
that stretch way back into the early twentieth century. Now we hear
the tragic news of Senator Ted Kennedy's inoperable brain cancer,
sending shivers down our spines and text messages through the gossip
mill.

It's a horrible fate to imagine. Even more horrible is the manner in
which the media and politicos are going to package it.

The first wave of messages will be hardly surprising, driven mainly
by morbid curiosity. What kind of tumor? Is it malignant? Followed
by the ever-present, "How long do you think he really has?"
We'll get the usual, "he's a fighter" and "if anyone can beat this,
Ted Kennedy can." We'll watch the interviews with his lifelong
friends. Given the media mentality of what now passes for American
politics, however, there's sure to be a second and third wave of
messaging that sinks way lower, deep beyond the previous limits of
bad taste.

This being an election year, I suspect that anyone with an agenda
will be soon be invoking the Kennedy name in discussions more often
than Jesus Christ in church. The Kennedy brand, at once as romantic
as it is tragic, will descend upon the Democrats at the convocation
of their national convention. In a twisted attempt to package this
year's nominee as the torch-bearer of the Kennedy legacy, Ted
Kennedy, viewed as "the last of the real Kennedys", will have his
final movie moment, waving to the crowd during a tearful, emotional
fifteen minute standing ovation after delivering his last keynote
address, nominating whichever Democrat that has managed to steal
enough votes.

Democratic strategists, like the infamous Howard Dean, will be
packaging Ted Kennedy as the New Age Gipper, with plenty of upshot
camera angles and slow-motion dolly moves that will be cut into the
eventual documentary film. It will be a glowing, Kennedy moment.

"Win this last one for me."

While the Kennedys have always enjoyed media popularity, reporters
are already writing Ted Kennedy's obituary. They're using words like
"patriarch" and "icon," which when you think about it, is true: Ted
Kennedy is an icon for a entire generation as the first public figure
to abdicate all responsibility for his personal behavior and without
any sort of public accountability. But that, as they say, is water
under the bridge.

As far as the Kennedys are concerned, their myths have always been
larger than life, and so in keeping with that tradition, I have
little doubt that party movers will manipulate Ted's final time with
masterful self-interest. I suspect that in the coming days, we'll
all hear and see the same talking heads bobbing and chattering and
speculating about "who dares to assume so great a mantle" as left by
Ted Kennedy, while anointing their candidate of choice in hopes of
spurring a generation of nostalgic baby boomers into the voting
booths.

It's a genuinely sad time for the Kennedy family. It's potentially
even sadder for America if the Democrats commercialize his ill
fortune for their own selfish gain.

H.L. Mencken said it best: "Nobody ever went broke underestimating
the taste of the American public." You just watch what happens with
the merchandising of Ted Kennedy.

And pray that I'm wrong.

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