Thursday, 22 May 2008

The news on Ted Kennedy

The ABC nightly news in Sydney on Wednesday reported Senator Ted Kennedy's cancer diagnosis in the following terms: that tributes had been pouring in from Democrats, and that the situation was tragic.

As reporting this is incompetent, and as a judgment it is absurd.

Among the prominent well-wishers in the United States have been President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain, and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. None of these people were Democrats the last time I checked. Senator McConnell is quoted in the New York Times in these terms: "Senator Kennedy enjoys great respect and admiration on this side of the aisle [i.e. among Republicans] ... He is indeed one of the most important figures to ever serve in this body in our history." That respect would be because Kennedy has been serving in the US Senate for 46 years, is acknowledged by all persons as one of its leaders, and in the manner of active members of that institution habitually forges alliances with, and drafts or co-sponsors legislation with members of the other side. The death or serious illness of a legislator of Kennedy's stature is a sombre bipartisan event in the US. You do not need to be an expert on American politics to know this sort of thing, and for the premier television news program in Australia to be tone-deaf to it ... I'm sorry, it is just inexcusable.

Oh and BTW, for a little context, the guy doubled over and weeping at the podium over Teddy's cancer in the broadcast (Robert C Byrd) is 90, and is the only person who has been in the chamber longer than Senator Kennedy. So he has a free pass to cry in this matter, it would seem to me.

As for the situation being tragic: the Senator is 76. It is sad for him and for his family and friends (there are rather a lot of both), poignant given his brothers' fate, and in the manner of these things it has brought everyone up short with a reminder of the inevitability of death: lots of people participate in this particular illness. But it is not a tragedy. Cancer striking down a teenager or a person in their twenties, a mother in her thirties, a family man in his forties --- that is tragic. To live into one's late seventies in reasonable health and vigour, with wealth and family, and moreover in a position of great power and acknowledged leadership --- that is a good innings under any definition. It is regrettable that it will likely be cut short (for as I understand, the prognosis is poor for a man of the Senator's age with this kind of tumour) but it is not a deep offense against the proper order of things. Let's get some perspective.

[Disclosure: I lost my own father to cancer at 80, on about a week's notice, when he had otherwise been in very good health for a man of his age. So if I'm being unreasonable here, it's not for lack of exposure to the phenomenon.]

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