THE PLANK AUGUST 29, 2009
Mike, you make a good point about Obama’s smart decision not to try to impose any symbolism on Kennedy’s death in his eulogy today. The timing of the loss lurked underneath nearly every discussion of Kennedy’s legacy this week, but using it as a rallying cry to pass health care reform at his funeral would be too easy to decry as a craven attempt by Obama to make political gains on his death. What I liked most about Obama’s eulogy was his quotation of William Wordsworth’s “Character of the Happy Warrior”:
As he told us, “…[I]ndividual faults and frailties are no excuse to give in – and no exemption from the common obligation to give of ourselves.” Indeed, Ted was the “Happy Warrior” that the poet William Wordsworth spoke of when he wrote:
As tempted more; more able to endure,
As more exposed to suffering and distress;
Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.
Wordsworth wrote the poem on the occasion of the death of Lord Nelson, the British Royal Navy hero who won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, before dying of injuries he sustained during the fight. In the poem, Wordsworth outlines the virtues of his patriotic ideal; a man who overcomes hardship and devotes his life to achieving greatness, guided by an ever-present moral compass. But Wordsworth didn’t think Nelson was quite worthy of the lines he wrote, because his “public life was stained with one great crime” (probably either his brutal treatment of the rebels in Naples in 1799 or his well-known affair). There are, of course, similarities with Kennedy’s own legacy, but I can’t think of better words to describe his character than those penned by Wordsworth.