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Linda Hirshman

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Friends, Romans, Countrymen... Not

Posted: 08/29/09 03:57 PM ET

So I sat through all the unfamiliar ceremony, the maudlin commentary, and the endless repetitions of the speech at the 1980 Democratic Convention, waiting for President Obama to take the body in his arms and tell the nation how this death sets the scene for a renewed commitment to heroic politics. But, nothing.

What might President Obama have said?

"We gather here today to honor the life of Edward Kennedy, the blessedly long-lived and uniquely inspiring American leader. Although we meet in his beloved Boston, he was, to borrow a phrase, America's Senator. There is never a good time to lose a Ted Kennedy. But this is a uniquely painful moment indeed.

"Like all Americans, I have witnessed in the last month scenes of our fellow citizens proclaiming their indifference to the suffering of others. As one demonstrator's sign said recently, 'Drop Dead. I Won't Pay for Your Health Care.' Another told the New York Times that in America the safety net must not catch too many people. As we lay to rest this long-lived servant of the American nation, let us take a moment to remember that his story is an evergreen reminder of another way for Americans to live. We loved then and weep now for Edward Kennedy because he cared for others - his family, his brothers' families, his state, the racial minorities, the victims of 9/11, the mentally ill ... and the physically ill, especially the ones who, without our love, will, indeed, fall through the safety net, many to their death.

"Like Ted Kennedy, and unlike the vision of lonely, selfish souls the protests invoke, Kennedy's life reminds us that we are not alone. He was not born alone; Rose Kennedy, his devoted mother, whose life played out here in this city of America's founding, bore him. His parents and, especially since he was the youngest, his sisters and brothers, raised him, a vital early safety net without which neither he nor any American could survive. The family, and the traditions of this noble state, Massachusetts, taught him the values of public service and community that are the touchstones of his legacy. When the time came for his family to enter into the public service for which they had been raised, they did not think their social obligation ended when they dropped a casserole at the house of a neighbor. They looked to our great nation, the United States of America, as the place where the most meaningful and effective efforts might be directed. They ran for Congress, for the Senate, for the Presidency, for good or ill. In those contests for public service and in the service that they rendered, Ted the most, of course, because he had the gift of time, they did everything in their power to manifest the collective possibilities inherent in the American dream -- for John Kennedy that we could start a corps for peace, for Robert that poverty and racism could be resisted and in the end defeated, for Teddy that the justice system could live up to its name and that the sick could be healed.

"Taken together, the legacy of all the Kennedy brothers is an old one, but one that bears remembering as strident voices demand we forget our communal ties. They believed, and I believe, that we are a community, not just any community but, as Ted Kennedy believed, in the centuries-old tradition of Puritan Massachusetts -- a chosen people, that America is a city on a hill, a beacon for all humanity. Let us take this sacred moment of his funeral to reconsecrate ourselves to that ideal."