Ted Kennedy: A Senator, A Patriarch
The passing of Senator Ted Kennedy surely represents a significant loss in American politics. The “lion of the Senate” for 47 years was at the forefront of American social policy. Through his long and distinguished career, he was if nothing else an extraordinarily gifted legislator and a master of the coalition-building and deal-making needed to craft what were some path-breaking legislation of the 20th century.
Look up the Civil Rights Act, immigration reform, health insurance as we know it, No Child Left Behind (despite his reticence once it passed), educational reform, etc —make no mistake, Ted Kennedy was behind every one of those pieces of law. You know the employer-based health insurance coverage, Cobra, that stays with you once you have to leave your current job? Yeah, that’s Ted Kennedy, too. It will be hard to imagine what the US Senate will be without him. His absence has been especially acute now during the acrimonious health care debate, packed as they are with the town-hall meetings. Now it’s up to the legacy of Kennedy, and all that represented in his career-long battle for health care reform, to help rescue it in some way.
Kennedy was also a larger-than-life figure. The youngest of the Kennedy brothers, he never became President like his brother John, and never secured his party’s nomination, like his brother Bobby. He also had to shepherd his family –and the nation—through their assassinations, and in so doing found his calling in public service in the US Senate. When he entered the Presidential race in 1980, seeking to unseat an unpopular Jimmy Carter, he didn’t quite achieve what he wanted.
In what was seen as a disastrous TV interview, Kennedy failed to answer NBC’s Roger Mudd’s question about why he wanted to become President. His rambling, unfocused answer did him in. The morning after, his poll numbers dropped. The public had the feeling that Kennedy, by virtue of his family’s name and fame, felt entitled to be elected. When he conceded the nomination to Carter that summer at the contentious Democratic Convention, he still found time to come roaring back. Kennedy was far from done, and his rousing speech was seen by many not only as an encomium to American liberalism, but exactly what disaffected Democrats needed to defeat Ronald Reagan in the general election. It didn’t quite materialize, but Kennedy’s presence in American politics never waned.
Ted Kennedy vs. Mayor Quimby
We at Smashgods know that Ted Kennedy also had a sense of humor. His speeches sometimes had a unique cadence, a style of speaking that was sometimes droll and echoed some Irish brogue but a clear and inimitable Bostonian accent. He was not above breaking out into Irish songs in his speeches, and his humorous stories were a trademark, both on the campaign trail and on the floor of the Senate.
We also know that he was a fan of “The Simpsons”. The long-running animated series on Fox, as many of its fans know, also have a recurring character named Mayor Joe Quimby, a sash-wearing, showboater of a corrupt politician, with hair parted to the side, and, most notably, a loud cadence similar not just to the real Ted Kennedy, but to politicians like the Kennedy brothers.
Who can forget all the moments that Mayor Quimby offered empty campaign promises, bedded many young women, including Miss Teen Springfield (all of 18), and the time he fathered Cookie Kwan’s child, only to have it revealed that his child has his exact same mannerisms, sash and all. Or the time that Mayor Quimby, who didn’t want his identity revealed, was busted in a prostitution ring, but still unwisely said to the camera –never missing an opportunity–: “Vote for Quimby!”. He was a consummate, if horrendously imperfect politician. He even had a classic campaign commercial:
Mayor Quimby of Springfield also seemed to always be escaping the law somehow. Did he tax Springfield citizens so that he could bankroll the murder of his political opponents? Of course he did. Does he provide hush money to the clueless and hapless Police Chief Wiggum so that he doesn’t just put him in jail? And ultimately doesn’t Wiggum just fall for it? The answer would have to be yes, as the following encounter illustrates:
Mayor Quimby: All right, I’m in charge here.
Chief Wiggum: Oh, run along, Quimby. I think they’re dedicating a phone booth somewhere.
Mayor Quimby: Watch it, you talking tub of donut batter.
Chief Wiggum: Hey, I got pictures of you, Quimby.
Mayor Quimby: You don’t scare me, that could be anyone’s ass. Now beat it! I’m calling the shots.
Chief Wiggum: I think that sash is cutting off the air to your brain! The town charter says, in an emergency I run the show!
Mayor Quimby: Well, we’ll just see about that! Let’s go to Town Hall!
Chief Wiggum: Fine!
Chief Wiggum: Should we take one car, or should I follow you?
Quimby is the same figure who pontificates at every occasion, grandstanding for the smallest of civic concerns: he’s everything an American politician aspires to be. Quimby is “Diamond Joe” who, during his 2000 run for US President, issues the following opening statement:
My fellow Americans and bribable election officials— I, Joseph Fitzpatrick Fitzgerald Fitzhenry Quimby have decided to run for the Presidency of the United States of America. This is not a decision I have made lightly. First I consulted my wife, and then, my wife’s sister. I later “consulted” the nanny, the nanny’s sister, several cocktail waitresses, Miss Springfield, Miss Teen Springfield (who is 18), and screen actress Sally Kirkland.
I believe that my tenure as Mayor of Springfield, one of America’s largest medium-to-small sized towns, has prepared me for such awesome Presidential responsibilities as meeting victorious Super Bowl teams, supervising the White House intern pool, and flying around in Air Force One — or as I shall be calling it, Air Force Fun. I am also considering referring to it as the Duff Partyplane.
So what does all this have to do with Ted Kennedy? Doesn’t this mock him, doesn’t this make fun of the Kennedy family. No. If one doesn’t look at the brilliance of “The Simpsons” and appreciate its roaring satire, in particular when it takes on political subjects, then one really misinterprets what’s going on. Mayor Quimby is an uproarious creation, not just of a Kennedy-type, but of all professional politicians, and the way in which they comport themselves while in office. He is but a caricature, but one that –good or bad—we have learned to understand in our political culture of ours.
No one figure is perfect in our political landscape, and Mayor Quimby, for all of his faults, is like everyone else. We actually think the style of speaking and Kennedy-like sound that the Mayor makes, is more of a tribute to what is the most well-known political dynasty in our country. Mayor Quimby and Ted Kennedy side by side: amid the obvious parody, they are one and the same, and that’s OK because they are both very familiar to us. We appreciate the real political figures a little more perhaps, as biographers like Adam Clymer and Doris Kearns Goodwin would freely admit, because they are imperfect human beings. In an odd way, perhaps, Mayor Quimby almost humanizes those politicians like Kennedy that we know so well because we probably place them on pedestals. We don’t believe any of this is disrespectful to the memory of Senator Kennedy.
We also have an inkling that the real Senator Kennedy held “The Simpsons” in high regard, or at least with his tongue firmly in cheek. In the summer of 2007, when he had certainly other more pressing concerns to lobby, he also tried to lobby the producers of “The Simpsons: The Movie” to hold its world premiere in the aptly-named Springfield, Mass. Springfield is the city where Homer, Moe, Apu, Patty and Selma, Ralph Wiggum, Cletus, Miss Krabapple and, yes, Mayor Joe Quimby live, but one of the running jokes of the series is that we don’t exactly know where the series is set. Unfortunately, Senator Kennedy’s wish was declined, but I suppose the attention was flattering.
As the nation mourns such a great loss this weekend, with the private funeral service today at St. Stephens Church in Boston and tomorrow, at his burial at Arlington National Cemetery alongside his brothers, with President Obama delivering the eulogy, we happen to think that in the celebratory world of “The Simpsons”, that Mayor Quimby would rather have fun. He might be inside a raucous bar, stepping up to a make-shift podium, with handlers telling him what to say, surrounded by bikini-clad beauties who have no purpose there except, well, to have fun. Maybe one of them would even jump out of cake. Keep on making us laugh, Mayor Quimby. May you rest in piece, Senator Kennedy.