Friday, March 10, 2017.
“There is no mercy in a country that turns its back on those most in need of protection…”: Massachusetts Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III taking House Speaker Paul Ryan to task at a hearing before the House Committee on Energy & Commerce on the Republicans’ bill to repeal and sort of replace the ACA. Wednesday, March 8, 2017.
I think of Joe Kennedy III as my Congressman. It’s irrational. It’s nostalgia at work. There’s a part of me that still lives in Boston. It’s only a little saner than the parts of me that live in Dickens’ London and Hemingway’s Paris. But at least I did once live and vote in Boston. Tip O’Neill was my Congressman back then. That was a long time ago. Kennedy was born the first year I was in town. The districts have been redrawn since then. I can’t tell for sure from the map but I think at least one of the apartments I lived in is in his district. It at least includes the old neighborhood of the church where his grandfather and great-uncle Jack were baptized and, when I went to church, and I went to church back then, not regularly, but more often than you might think---I was dating a good Catholic girl at the time---that was my church. St Aidan’s. Bobby and Jack’s pictures hung on the wall behind the baptismal font. It’s gone now. Mostly. Swallowed up in a condominium complex. If you want an idea of how that came about, see the movie Spotlight. The Boston Archdiocese had some legal bills to pay. But it’s still standing there in my memory as the church it was. Mass is still being said. I’m still dating that girl. I still get to Fenway on Saturday afternoons in summer and pay $3.50 to sit in the right field bleachers and cheer on Dewey Evans and Wade Boggs and Jim Rice---I told you it was a long time ago. I still work in the bookstore downtown and walk across the Common every morning to get there with my coffee mug steaming. If home is where the heart is, Boston’s home. So, ridiculous as it is, I claim Joe Kennedy as my Congressman and the other night he made me and all his constituents, actual and imaginative, proud with his stirring rebuke of Paul Ryan for calling killing the ACA along with a lot of people who are going to lose their insurance a “mercy.”
"I was struck last night by a comment that I heard made by Speaker Ryan, where he called this repeal bill 'an act of mercy.' With all due respect to our speaker, he and I must have read different Scripture…The one I read calls on us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, and to comfort the sick. It reminds us that we are judged not by how we treat the powerful, but by how we care for the least among us. There is no mercy in a system that makes health care a luxury. There is no mercy in a country that turns their back on those most in need of protection: the elderly, the poor, the sick, and the suffering. There is no mercy in a cold shoulder to the mentally ill. This is not an act of mercy. It is an act of malice."
My heart leapt as I watched. There was no hope Ryan would feel the sting. A man with no heart can’t have a change of heart. But it was good to hear the words spoken. Particularly satisfying to hear that last word applied. But I knew as I was watching that I was as much moved by who was speaking as by what he was saying. The Kennedy name still lights a fire in me.
I mentioned in the second post of this series how the whole time I was growing up and for more than a decade into my adulthood Democrats around me were hoping for the second coming of JFK. I was one of them. At some level I still am. For a second the other day I thought I saw him.
The truth is I don’t know how proud I’d be to claim this Kennedy as my Congressman if he really was my Congressman. My sense is that he’s doing a good job and he’s a real up and comer. But I don’t read the Boston papers except to follow the Celtics and the Red Sox and I suspect my sense that he’s the real deal is more a matter of my hoping that he is.
The Kennedy name is no guarantee of political skill or success or even of being on the right side of an issue. Joe Kennedy III’s father Joseph Kennedy II was a pretty good Congressman during the twelve years he served in the House but I don’t recall he did anything to greatly distinguish himself. His uncle, Robert Kennedy Jr, is distinguishing himself as an anti-vaxxer kook these days. His aunt Kathleen Kennedy Townsend did all right by herself as lieutenant governor of Maryland, as far as I know, but that’s as far she went. His cousin Patrick, his uncle Ted’s son, had something of a mixed career; whatever potential he had he self-sabotaged thanks to his various addictions to alcohol and drugs. Ted’s other son, Ted Kennedy Jr, is just getting started as a member of the Connecticut State Senate but he’s something of a late bloomer at fifty-five. Given how many of them there are, there are probably plenty more members of the extended clan involved in politics in one way or another. But right now Joe III is the only one making a national reputation for himself and I can’t help hoping he’s the one and so, for a moment---one, brief shining moment---that’s who I saw him as.
Saw being the operative word.
I wasn’t just carried away by what I heard. It was also what I saw. His words were persuasive but his looks gave them force. The family resemblance is strong. Briefly I saw the three of them. His grandfather and his great-uncles. Robert, Ted, and Jack.
I caught myself.
I caught myself in the middle of telling myself a story about this Kennedy that was really about those Kennedys.
It was a story I wanted to hear. Needed to hear. And it wasn’t based on the facts of the moment but on memories and nostalgia, strongly Influenced by my having recently seen Jackie and the biography of Bobby I’m currently reading.
This is something we all do all the time. We make up stories based on what we already know or think we know and tell ourselves those stories while we are supposedly paying attention to what’s happening before our eyes.
The question then becomes what are we really paying attention to---what are we really seeing as opposed to what we think we’re seeing? The answer is a lot of things going on inside our own heads, much of which we’re not conscious of even as we’re “seeing” it. Unless we work hard not to, in most situations, what we’re paying closest attention to is ourselves.
It’s high near impossible to leave ourselves out of our thinking. It’s our fundamental bias. We tend to take our own word for things, usually without knowing that’s what we’re doing, which is why we don’t take it into account when forming impressions and making judgments. We tell ourselves stories and believe them completely to the point that the story is more real than reality and no contradicting stories will shake us out of our belief.
This explains why Trump’s voters are having such a hard time admitting they made a mistake in voting for the lunatic. They’re still telling themselves the same stories that allowed them to vote for him in the first place, the stories in which he appeared as “Donald Trump” the tough-minded, common-sensical boss America needs to make itself great again and not as Donald Trump the raving, racist egomaniac who doesn’t know how to do anything but hurt people and break things. And make money while he’s at it.
I think it also explains why so many members of the political media who should have known better---who did know better---didn’t see that raving, racist egomaniac doing his damnedest to pretend he wasn’t that racist, raving egomaniac in his address to Congress last week.
As I said in Scene 2, they saw what they wanted to see for the sake of the story they wanted to tell, Trump turning around his Presidency with one great “Presidential” speech. But they saw something else, and it was that something else that enabled them to see what they wanted to see for the sake of that story. They saw what they were used to seeing under the circumstances whenever a big commanding figure appears in the well of the House of Representatives before an assemblage of Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen and other high government officials, flanked by the Vice-President and the Speaker of the House, against the backdrop of the American flag.
They saw the President of the United States.
Who they forgot for the moment was Donald Trump.
Fade out on Scene 3. Follow the link to Scene 4.
Here's my review of Jackie: Mrs Kennedy against Death.
This is the biography of RFK I'm reading, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon by Larry Tye. It's available in hardcover and for kindle at Amazon. Please help this blog keep chugging along. Buy books!
Try to see him and not them.