Fr. Robert Barron has an insightful commentary on the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy--his legacy in particular and that of the Kennedy clan in general.
You can find the brief video here, and here is the text of his commentary, entitled "Sen. Kennedy, Abortion, and the Party of the Little Guy.
Fr. Barron's experience growing up as a Catholic and what the Kennedys meant to Catholic Americans are highly reflective of my own formative years (I believe Father is slightly younger than me). Even though the home I was raised in was Catholic only in the most extremely nominal sense, it was a Mexican American home. As such, there was the obligatory picture of President John F. Kennedy displayed in an honored place--right there next to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. JFK was matter-of-factly acknowledged as a martyr -- as a martyr to what, it wasn't exactly clear to us; to civil rights or some other such thing. All we knew was that Kennedy (and by extension all the Kennedys and the whole Democratic Party) were for the little guy (ourselves included) and their opponents the Republicans were, by default, evil incarnate. If pressed for a rational defense for this position, we would have been at a loss. That's what everyone we knew believed so that was good enough for us, thank you.
I was too young to remember the JFK assassination, but I remember very clearly when Bobby Kennedy was shot. Life (school, work, everything) was put on hold to mourn this young man who's legacy, especially in retrospect, was not one of actual accomplishment, but rather one of unrealized promise and of further building the Kennedy legend.
The first time I voted for President, I was 18 years old and I voted for Jimmy Carter. I voted for him because he seemed like a nice guy and he was Democrat, both of which meant he wasn't a Republican. That was my whole line of reasoning, as I imagine it is for many people who voted then and now vote, not on the issues, but out of ignorance of the issues and on pure emotion and social conditioning.
Four years later, after being exposed to the realities of life, serving a stint in the military, and watching President Carter drag this country down into quivering mass of economic, political and miltary jelly, I voted for Ronald Reagan, and have voted Republican ever since then. Not that the GOP is perfect (far from it), but I can at least say now that when I vote (whether I am right or wrong) I attempt to vote based on an informed decision, rather than the emotionalism of my uninformed youth. Socrates taught that "The unexamined life is not worth living." One could also say, "The unexamined vote is not worth casting."
Which brings me back to Senator Kennedy. There is a telling passage from Fr. Barron's commentary:
I think it is safe to say that, over the past thirty years, there has been no stronger and more consistent advocate of abortion rights than this late “lion of the Senate.” But it was not always so. In 1971, just two years before Roe v. Wade, Sen Kennedy responded to a man named Tom Dennelly of Great Neck, N.Y. who had written to the senator expressing his views on the matter of abortion. Here is how Kennedy responded: “While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized — the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.” And he went on: “when history looks back at this era it should recognize this generation as the one which cared for human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”
For my money, that’s one of the best and most theoretically consistent defenses of the pro-life position ever articulated. And it came quite appropriately from the leader of the party of the little guy. In 1971 anyway, opposition to abortion was a naturally Democratic position, whereas today a pro-life Democrat is practically an oxymoron, and almost every major Democratic politician, locally or nationally, feels obligated to parrot pro-choice ideology if he wants his party’s nomination.
Ted Kennedy, for all the good he may have done in social issues and "protecting the little" guy, out of political expediency changed moral course and, as a result, came up short on the issue of protecting the weakest humans of all. When he stood before God, what could he have said to Him about the millions killed by abortion out of political expediency? As Robert Kennedy famously said:
There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?
To me, the tragedy of Senator Kennedy's life is the tragedy of all the Kennedy brothers: what could have been. May God have mercy on his soul.