To Be Or Not To Be (a Democrat)
I was born a little over a year before President Kennedy was assassinated, so, of course, I have no personal memory of our 35th President, but I still consider myself a "Kennedy Democrat".
I guess, technically, I am a "Ted Kennedy Democrat". Ted Kennedy was elected to the US Senate the year I was born (1962), so until he died last year, Ted was really the only Kennedy on the national political stage with which I had any real familiarity. After the deaths of Jack and Bobby, the "kid brother" Ted, was left to carry on the unfiinished work & the political legacy that his siblings had begun & for which they quite literally gave their lives. I cannot begin to imagine the unspeakable heartbreak that was uniquely his (and his family's) in losing two family members to assassins. Considering the tragedies that had befallen the Kennedy clan, and the fact that, long before the loss of the brothers, the Kennedys--thanks to the family patriarch, Joe--were more-than financially secure, no one would have blamed Ted Kennedy for just leaving the world of politics behind altogether. It may have been what a lot of people would have decided to do, had they been in a similar situation, but Ted Kennedy was not raised that way. His mother, Rose, taught her children that public service and giving back to a country that had given their family so much was just simply the right thing to do. Undoubtedly, Ted--like his brothers before him--had that idea deeply ingrained in their lives. With or without his brothers, Ted knew that there was still much left to be done to help the country they all loved to live up to its own greatness, so Ted Kennedy knew that giving up was just not an option; continuing to fight for the promise of a new day for so many still left behind economically and legally was not even question for Ted. His mind and his heart--and no less importantly to Ted, his mother, Rose--would not allow him to do less.
That is a big reason I am a Democrat today. The Kennedy family inspired me. The closest thing our country has ever had to political royalty always fought for the "little guy and gal", and for those of us who felt voiceless in the halls of power. No one needed to tell them that to whom much is given, much is required; they lived that truth every day,. To them, "they" were "us". To me it seemed that Ted Kennedy simply relished his role as the "Lion of the Senate" and, until he became sick, his metaphorical roar--through his unrelenting work on a vast array of progressive caues in Congress--was heard around the world. The senior Senator from Massachusets continued to fight that Good Fight until his last breath. Senator Hubert Humphrey, who served the people of Minneota in the Senate during Kennedy's tenure there, was famously known as "The Happy Warrior" because of his sunny disposition as he fought hard for virtually the same progressive agenda as Senator Kennedy, and I personally believe--while not taking a single thing away from the wonderful, distinguished Senator from Minnesota--that that same nom de guerre just as easily fits Ted Kennedy.
Though it was the Kennedys that helped shape my political views, it was my own Democratic Party that, at a few times in the past, has forced me to take a good, long look at how well THEY have remained true to the principles that I believed they stood/stand for.
I am sure it is no secret to anyone who has read anything I've written that I am a gay man, and it is precisely my party's inability too often to back up its inspiring, high-minded values where GLBT rights are concerned with real, concrete actions that has not only hurt & disappointed me, but also made me feel so frustratred and angry sometimes. There have been several times throughout my adult life that I have come so very close to leaving the Democratic Party because I saw my party as having left me already. The Democratic Party can really speak so eloquently on behalf of the equality of all Amerians, and I don't doubt their dedication to their the "idea" of GLBT equality, but it seems they're so timid when it comes time to lead on GLBT equality. I fear sometimes that the Dems have forgotten that they wage this fight from the moral high ground, and they've allwed the far right & the neo-cons to outright lie to the American people and make them believe in the false choice between either granting "special rights" to sex-starved deviants or preserving all that is good & pure about America. Too often, I've seen my party's leaders spend so much precious time taking the GOP bait and feverishly trying to prove that they really ARE more pro-American than their political enemies, while asking those of us in the GLBT community and our heterosexual allies to keep it down a little (especially during campaign season) and to be more patient, and that one day, we'll get ours, too. I guess that, when your family is protected by law, and when you're able to marry the person you love, and provide them with health insurance so they can stay healthy and well-taken care of...and even divorce them the next day (ask Britney Spears)...and when you don't have to fear losing your home, your job and children for simply loving someone of the same gender, it's easy to ask the rest of us to be a little more patient...and to trust them to take care of our "special interests" one of these days...somewhere down the road...when the time is right.
I've heard all these things all my adult life, and I have grown weary of excuses, but I never left my party. I decided to stay and to fight my fight here, and convince as many people as I can that this is not just MY fight or the GLBT community's fight, it is the fight of any true freedom-loving American.
It's just as Emma Lazarus wrote in her sonnet, The New Colussus, which is inscribed on a bronze plaque inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, a portion of which states:
Until we are all free, we are none of us free.
Senator Kennedy understood this, and each time I feel tempted to just throw my hands up in the air and rip up my voter registration card, I think of the what Senator Kennedy said at the 1980 Democratic Convention when he closed his concession speech to President Carter:
For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.
In that one sentence lies nearly the entire reason why I have stayed with my party, and why I continue to call myelf a (Ted Kennedy) Democrat.