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Analysis/Comment Last Updated: Jan 23, 2011 - 9:24 AM


Senator Edward Kennedy - - a politician who made a difference
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Aug 27, 2009 - 6:01 AM

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The death of Senator Edward Kennedy has brought a torrent of tributes for his success as a legislator. Almost a half century in the United States Senate would not surprisingly result in some achievements but it would be hard to fake commitment for that long and Kennedy can truly be termed a politician who made a difference.

President Obama said on Wednesday that for five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.

“His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives  - - in seniors who know new dignity, in families that know new opportunity, in children who know education’s promise, and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just - - including myself,” he said.

In the nineteenth century, Henry Clay, another United Sates Senator who had taken unpopular positions, worked on compromises and wished to be president, had famously said "I'd rather be right than be President!" His detractors of course said, he would never be either.

In June 1963, Edward Kennedy's brother, President John F. Kennedy, said in an address to the Dáil: "It is that quality of the Irish--that remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination--that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not. It matters not how small a nation is that seeks world peace and freedom, for, to paraphrase a citizen of my country, "the humblest nation of all the world, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of Error."

Five years later, in June 1968, in the eulogy at the funeral of his brother Robert, Senator Edward Kennedy said: "As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: 'Some men see things as they are and say, 'Why?' I dream things that never were and say, 'Why not?'"

And so back to the land of the Kennedy's forebears, from where Edward Kennedy's eight great-grandparents all migrated to Boston, Massachusetts during the devastating Potato Famine of the late 1840’s, it is sad to observe that when in these perilous times, the Irish need the "remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination," they will not find it among the political class.

The issue of the "bad bank" NAMA, which will become the repository of property-related loans worth more than half the GDP (gross domestic product), is just one example of crucial issues where most of the 216 members of the Oireachtas have nothing to say.

President John F. Kennedy in Ireland, June 1963

My father used to often say that you cannot make a race-horse out of a mule.

I recall as a youth reading a number of American journalist John Gunther's (1901-1970) series of "Inside" books that I had got from the Bandon library.

There are two items I recall from Inside Latin America, which was first published in 1939. Gunther recounted how the drunken Bolivian president General Mariano Melgarejo had in 1870 thought that the new British ambassador could be brought down to earth by ordering that he be strapped naked, facing backwards, on a donkey and paraded around La Paz.

The other story also involved a donkey. Politicians in some Brazilian town were so discredited that citizens nominated a donkey for mayor and the ass won.

It's said that the camel seldom sees his own hump and when it comes to Irish politics it is not always easy to discern who are the donkeys - - the politicians or the voters?

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