I’ve never much bought into the notion that we ought to venerate the dead simply because they’ve died. Nor do I feel the need to reflexively praise politicians for their public service. Ted Kennedy was a lifetime member of the political class. The things he’s being praised and remembered for—his half century in politics, his ability to “get things done” in Washington, his prowess as a legislator (which translates into his ability to use politics, as opposed to civil society, to solve problems), the inherited privilege that came with his last name—none of these things are particularly virtuous in my book.
Here are a few kind words for Kennedy: I don’t doubt Kennedy was sincere when he claimed to speak for the poor or dispossessed. I just happened to disagree with most of his prescriptions for helping them. Kennedy helped liberalize America’s immigration laws. That’s a good thing. Surprisingly, he was a key voice in helping deregulate the airline and trucking industries in the 1970s. We’re all better off for that.
But I feel no compulsion to praise Kennedy’s life in politics. Kennedy was an elite, and not by virtue of any actual accomplishment (sorry, but we have 100 senators no matter who comes out on top on election night. Getting elected to political office in itself adds no value to society as a whole). Instead, Kennedy was an elite by birthright, by being born into the closest thing America has to royalty. He used his status and political power to procure advantages the rest of us don’t have, whether it was evading responsibility for his role in a young woman’s death, or hypocritically killing off a planned wind farm in Nantucket Sound because the renewable energy project would have sullied the view from the Kennedys’ Hyannis Port compound–to pick two examples that bookend his life in politics.
Newspaper editorialists like to eulogize politicians by exalting the sacrifice that comes with public service. I’ve never really believed that. A U.S. Senator’s life is hardly one of hardship. It’s hard for me to find anything particularly praiseworthy or sacrificial about an already-wealthy man adding to his wealth the enormous power that comes with spending 40+ years in the halls of the U.S. Senate. Kennedy played no small role in vastly growing the size, scope, and power of the federal government. In my book, that makes his career contribution to human freedom a net loss.
Finally—and you’d think this would be obvious—honoring a recently deceased politician is a really, really awful reason to pass a trillion dollar piece of legislation.