I disagreed with Sen. Kennedy often. At some of the most fundamental levels, his view of government could not have diverged more sharply from mine. I believe that what has been called the purpose of his life -- universal health care (read: socialized medicine) -- is a bleeding-heart liberal cause, driven by a flat-out wrong conception of what constitutes a "right."
Putting that aside, however, his passing reminds me of what I grew up understanding about the United States Senate, and public service in general. What was most striking to me was not the as-expected liberal outpouring of grief, but rather the words of those colleagues of Sen. Kennedy who worked across the aisle from and so ferociously opposed him. These remarks tell me all I need to know.
Said Missouri's own Kit Bond:
"Sen. Kennedy was not only known as a tremendous public servant, but also as a gentleman within the halls of Congress. He was a great ally when we worked together, and friendly and courteous -- yet formidable -- when we disagreed."
Said Orrin Hatch:
"When I first came to the United States Senate, I was filled with conservative fire in my belly and an itch to take on any and everyone who stood in my way, including Ted Kennedy. ...
"In the current climate of today's United States Senate, it is rare to find opportunities where both sides can come together and work in the middle to craft a solution for our country's problems. Ted Kennedy, with all of his ideological verbosity and idealism, was a rare person who could at times put aside differences and look for common solutions. Not many ever got to see that side of him, but as peers and colleagues, we were able to share some of those moments."
And finally, said the Senior Senator from Arizona himself:
"Many of his fellow senators, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, will note today that Ted was sincerely intent on finding enough common ground among us to make progress on the issues of our day, and toward that end, he would work as hard and as modestly as any staffer. Many will recall his convivial nature, his humor, his thoughtfulness. We will praise as his greatest strength the integrity of his word. When he made a promise to you, he kept it, no matter what.
"What is harder for us to express is the emptiness we will feel in the Senate in his absence. Even when we are all crowded in the chamber for a vote, engaged in dozens of separate conversations, it will seem a quiet and less interesting place, in the knowledge that his booming voice, fueled by his passion for his convictions, will never encourage or assail or impress us again.
"I will miss him very much."
Ted Kennedy was an arch-liberal, the perpetual nemesis of the conservative movement. From a political perspective, I believe he was wrong about many things. He had his share of personal failings to be sure, including and not limited to that tragic night at Chappaquiddick Creek. But everyone is entitled to forgiveness. And despite all my quibbles with his ideological convictions, there is no doubt that Sen. Kennedy was a graceful public servant. By all accounts, even in the most heated of disagreements, he never failed to treat his colleagues with respect and dignity.
In short, for Ted Kennedy, it seemed that politics was never personal. In this world of Hannitys and Palins and Pelosis and Reids, it's an ideal that is too long gone.