I awakened this morning to the sad news that Senator Edward Kennedy had died early this morning of the brain tumor that was diagnosed just about a year ago today. Just yesterday afternoon, I heard a park ranger at Ford's Theatre quote the words of Edwin M. Stanton on the passing of Abraham Lincoln, and they were the first words that leapt to mind as I contemplated what to title this post.
After watching a bit of CNN's coverage, I got cleaned up and left the hotel bright and early to walk down to the Mall. From what I could tell, there didn't appear to be any visible signs of mourning: the flags surrounding the Washington Monument, and on every building I saw, governmental or otherwise, were all still at the top of their staffs. (I suspect that even once President Obama gave the order to lower the flags in Washington, those around the monument will stay up--they don't appear to have a mechanism for lowering them.) However, as I hiked further east toward the Capitol, I finally noticed a flag at half-mast. It was flying, somewhat interestingly, over the Rayburn House Office Building. Finally, when I got close enough to the Capitol itself to make out the flagstaff in the morning haze and the glare from the sun climbing higher in the sky behind it, this is what I saw:
By the time I walked back down the Mall to the Washington Monument to see if I could get in for the first tour of the day, I noticed that the flag over the White House was also at half-mast, though that was the only other one I noticed. By the time I headed back to the hotel to get a shower and check out, I was noticing flags at half-mast all over the place. And, to borrow a phrase I saw carved into the wall of the Lincoln Memorial a couple of nights ago, "it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this." Whether one liked Kennedy or loathed him (and/or his politics), the fact that the man served in the United States Senate for longer than I've been alive is something worthy of respect.
Fortunately, I've been mostly incommunicado all day--but I gather, from things I've seen here and there, that the haters have been out spewing their typical bile--and on the same day that the man died. Probably just as well I haven't been confronted with any of that BS, because I'd absolutely freak if I did. Again, say what you like about the man's politics--or his personality--but for the love of all that's holy, if you must tear him down, couldn't you at least have the common courtesy to wait until he's had a chance to cool off in his grave? Once upon a time, we knew the meaning of the phrase nil de mortuis nisi bonum, "speak nothing but good of the dead." Now, not so much, apparently.
With Ted Kennedy's passing, we may also have witnessed the passing of the last remnant of comity in the U.S. Senate. As one of the morning talking heads on CNN observed, one of Kennedy's closest friends was Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican whose political positions are about as far away from those of Senator Kennedy as it's possible to get. After nearly fifty years in the Senate, the man knew how to get things done--and had the clout and the character to make it happen. How many of his ninety-nine remaining colleagues can honestly say that of themselves, in this era of the politics of personal destruction? At the time Ted Kennedy entered the Senate, when a senator uttered the phrase "the enemy," he did not mean his colleagues on the other side of the aisle, he meant those idiots on the other end of the Capitol--the House of Representatives. We really should do what we can to return to that way of thinking--especially if we ever want to get any of the umpty-bajillion bits of pressing legislation passed that we have to get passed.
A couple of nights ago, I was sitting on top of a tour bus, coming across the Arlington Memorial Bridge, on our way to the Marine Corps War Memorial. In the darkness, just below the Custis-Lee mansion, I caught a glimpse of the eternal flame that burns on John F. Kennedy's grave. It flickered for a moment, and then disappeared from sight. It almost makes one believe in omens.
I hope to see his brother laid to rest there beside him, or in some other place of honor and respect. It is only his due, after a lifetime of service to this country. Good night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. We shall absent ourselves from felicity awhile in your memory.