One after another my Harvard classmates pass from the scene. First John Updike, now Teddy Kennedy. I did not know either of them, of course. I was in Adams House, and all the Kennedy boys were in Winthrop. Besides, I was perhaps the least sociable member of the class of '54, and I ended up knowing very few of my more than one thousand classmates. I did visit Kennedy's office in the old Senate Office Building once, but he wasn't in.
Much is being said this morning by the television commentators of Kennedy's ability to forge friendships cross the aisle, and the role that played in his unparallelled legislative success. There is no doubt much truth to that observation, but I would like to comment on another of Kennedy's characteristics that was, in my judgment, equally important. Kennedy was preternaturally patient in his pursuit of the enactment of the liberal legislation for which he is rightly famous. He was capable of working unflaggingly for decades, suffering defeat after defeat as he tried to build the legislative coalitions that would turn child care or worker protection or health care reform into law. He, more than anyone else in the Congress, will deserve the credit when the health care reform bill now being crafted so laboriously and inelegantly finally passes in a month or two.
One of my readers objected to the fact that I mentioned Stalin in a previous comment about the need for such patience and commitment. I thought I made it clear that I was praising the trait, not the man. But henceforward I will happily cite Teddy when the need arises.
All of us on the left must learn from Kennedy's patience. Those of us, especially, whose professional work consists in having ideas tend to be hopelessly impatient. We get an idea, express it, and think that is the end of it. But as Kierkegaard so wisely observes, whereas novelty is the essence of the aesthetic, repetition is the essence of the ethical [see EITHER/OR].