Last night watching the wake for Edward M. Kennedy at the Kennedy Library in Boston and hearing many talented speakers eulogize “Teddy” with affection and grace, with tears and more than a few lovely anecdotes and reminiscences I found I was scowling and leaning at the kitchen table in ways unintended by body mechanics so that I got an ache in my “whatsis” which is somewhere between the shoulder blades and the back of the trachea.
I was recalling D.H. Lawrence’s famous essay on Walt Whitman in which he wrote:
“When the Pequod went down, she left many a rank and dirty steamboat still fussing in the seas. The Pequod sinks with all her souls, but their bodies rise again to man innumerable tramp steamers, and ocean-crossing liners. Corpses.”
“What we mean is that people may go on, keep on, and rush on, without souls. They have their ego and their will, that is enough to keep them going.”
Rubbing my “whatsis” I was tempted to think that the U.S. Senate may now be an assembly rushing on without souls, driven merely by ego and will. Certainly watching the two notable Republican senators in attendance one might imagine the floating victims of Melville’s disaster. Orin Hatch was eloquent and at times sweetly amusing–he even concluded with a schoolboyish poem of farewell to Teddy. John McCain was all ego, talking of his happy disputes with Kennedy with some testosterone brio that I’m sure Teddy would have admired but which, of course isn’t the point.
Neither Hatch or McCain could bring himself to utter the words health care reform–no surprise there, but neither could they pledge to return to D.C. and take up the matter in a spirit of bi-partisan small “d” democratic obligation to a nation in trouble. They will go on, keep on, rush on, all “ego and will” and if you think I’m gilding the lily I’ll simply point out that John McCain was in such a rush to get out of there that he ran right past Senator Kennedy’s widow Vicky who was trying to shake his hand. He was doubtless in a rush to get back aboard his rank little steamer.
Of course the Republicans are just the Republicans. Its the big and small “d” Democrats we should be concerned about. Will they fail in this fight for true health care reform because they were smaller men and women than the senators and representatives who passed the civil rights bills in ’64 and ’65? Or will they perform the routine business of the slave state and say, like Kenneth Rexroth’s version of Pontius Pilate, “And what is love?” and wash their hands?
I suspect there’s a vast supply of hand sanitizing lotion on Capitol Hill.