One of the things that I respect about liberal Democrats like the Kennedys and Jesse Jackson was their ability to bridge the divide between white blue collar communities and minority communities. This election cycle, I’ve been surprised that the two most progressive candidates in the Democratic field, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, were unable to garner significant support in the black community. Both Warren and Sanders have good records on issues of civil rights and offer detailed proposals aimed at solving problems affecting African American communities. From what I’ve read, Biden has such strong support in the African American community, especially among older black voters, because he has nurtured their support over several decades and has been visible in their communities.
Jesse Jackson and the Kennedy brothers spent years building trust in both white blue collar communities and minority communities by being there when these communities struggled and listening to their grievances. Jesse Jackson’s work helping the black community is well known. But what is little known is his work helping white blue collar and white rural communities. He walked the picket lines with striking workers and consistently fought for the right of workers to collectively bargain. He visited rural communities to help farmers facing foreclosures. Jackson helped out Farm Aid, the series of concerts designed to raise funds for struggling farmers.
Robert Kennedy visited poor white Appalachian mining communities and poor black Mississippi sharecropping areas and spoke out for federal help for both communities. He walked the picket lines with Mexican American and Filipino American farm workers to support the Delano grape strike. He organized business leaders and community activists in an experiment in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood to try to lift the economy of a poor neighborhood. Kennedy consistently spoke out for the rights of Native Americans.
Ted Kennedy did the most to pass legislation to help both white blue collar and minority communities. He fought for legislation for Meals on Wheels, a higher minimum wage, union rights, health insurance for poor children, family leave for working parents, greater access to health care and a stronger social safety net that would help both white and minority communities.
Over the years, several of my more conservative friends have criticized me for seeing Ted Kennedy as a hero. They make legitimate points about Ted Kennedy’s atrocious conduct in Chappaquidick and his years of excessive drinking and womanizing before his marriage to Vicki Reggie. I have no excuses for his behavior at that period of his life. I have never heard a liberal try to offer excuses for Kennedy’s flaws.
Ted Kennedy is my hero because of his struggle to redeem himself from the mistakes of his life. I compare him to Theon Greyjoy, a character in Game of Thrones who worked to redeem himself from the terrible things he did early in his life. Kennedy met privately with Mary Jo Kopechne’s parents to apologize for his inexcusable actions. After Kennedy started dating and eventually married Vicki Reggie 1992, he cleaned up his private life. Kennedy worked to pass legislation that helped the poor, the working class, minority groups and anyone who was marginalized in society.
Here is a video done just after Ted Kennedy died in 2009. A reporter asked ordinary people in Boston about their reactions to Ted Kennedy’s death. Most of them talked about how Ted Kennedy stood up for the working man his entire life and how he eventually grew to become the Lion of the Left after struggling to overcome his flaws.