The deaths of public figures bring out a certain taste for melodramatic finality in journalists, and the passing of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is no exception. Witness MSNBC’s Chris Matthews pronouncing President Obama as the “last Kennedy brother,” to the annoyance of Republicans. Terms like the “last dynasty,” “last giant” and “last of the legends” were also bandied about in the press.
“End” was also popular. Ever vigilant to wield a historic narrative, news organizations were particularly fond of the phrases, “end of an era” and “end of Camelot” in coverage of the Massachusetts Democrat and his legacy. (The Washington Times opted for the latter). And of course, when in doubt, do a Nexis search. Ours revealed that in the last 24 hours, “end of an era” and “end of Camelot” were showcased in 15 wire service reports, 31 broadcast stories and 37 newspaper accounts - in tandem and separately.
There will be more Friday and Saturday; each of the news channels, for example, will feature from seven to 10 hours of special Kennedy programming each day.
But does Mr. Kennedy’s death signal the actual end of something? Don’t count on it.
“The short answer is this. Whether the Kennedy legacy lives on is up to us. Kennedy’s brand of progressive, pragmatic politics is, I believe, very much alive in Obama’s Democratic Party,” CNN contributor Paul Begala tells Inside the Beltway.
“The Kennedy legacy of public service is seen in the Bushes, McCains, Romneys, Bayhs, Rockefellersand others who have served our country through the generations. But now it’s up to us. Will we raise our children to seek a life of ease, which Ted Kennedy could have chosen, or will we challenge them to serve a cause greater than themselves, as John McCain says?”
Mr. Begala, an adviser to former President Bill Clinton, continues, “Will the 69.5 million people who voted for Barack Obama walk away from civic engagement now that the fun part is over and the hard work is beginning - or will they, like Ted Kennedy, roll up their sleeves and work to change America? Ted Kennedy did all he could to help as many as he could for as long as he could. Now it’s up to us to pick up the torch.”
Another observer was not quite so diplomatic. “It’s just ‘Weekend at Bernie’s‘ all over again,” the source tells Beltway.
ROD AND REAL
Prepare for a Blago-heavy autumn. Prosecuting attorneys may be lying in wait for former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, who was removed from office in January after he was arrested on federal corruption charges. Yeah, well, who cares? Mr. Blagojevich has a new book with a big title coming out next week “The Governor: The Truth Behind the Political Scandal that Continues to Rock the Nation.”
He’ll be appearing on 14 talk shows, including ABC’s “The View” with his wife, Patti. Oh, and with Meghan McCain - who is filling in for Elisabeth Hasselbeck, now on maternity leave. The mind reels.
“Rod wants to get out there. He’s got news and new information, and he’s anxious that people get the truth, the whole story. He’s asserted from day one that he was innocent. And he’s still asserts that,” his spokesman Glenn Selig tells Beltway.
Oh yeah. Uh-huh. Look out. Recent news reports have revealed articulate, tenacious senior citizens on the march against health care reform at town meetings and on talk radio. They’re signing petitions, lecturing public officials and complaining to lawmakers about a possible $600 billion in Medicare cuts.
It all gives credence to the phrase “70 is the new 50.” And who knows? At that rate, 90 could be the new 70. This demographic - gray panthers, part deux - is not to be trifled with in the polling booth. In the 2008 presidential election, 70 percent of voters over 65 turned out, or about 24 million, according to the Census Bureau.
“There’s a senior citizen tsunami headed toward Capitol Hill and unless it subsides politicians will feel intense pain at the polls in 2010,” 60 Plus Association President Jim Martin tells Inside the Beltway.
The Virginia-based group has had to add 50 temporary phone operators, Mr. Martin says, to handle calls from seniors looking for information on town-hall meetings and alternatives to the AARP.
WHILE IN TRANSIT
“If you think health care is expensive now, wait until it’s free.” - Bumper sticker spotted on the Beltway by an intrepid reader.
POLL DU JOUR
- 46 percent of Americans plan to keep two weeks worth of food, water and medicine ready in case of an H1N1 flu pandemic.
- 62 percent plan on being vaccinated against H1N1.
- 78 percent will cover sneezes with tissue; 76 will wash their hands more carefully.
- 93 percent will take at least one precaution to avoid the flu.
- 10 percent say they are “very worried” about H1N1.
Source: A Red Cross survey of 1,002 adults conducted July 17-20.
Snorts of outrage, fancy press releases, bold announcements to jharper@washington times.com or 202/636-3085.