The late Senator Kennedy continues to cost taxpayers money from the grave.
In 1994, during the last competitive political race of Ted Kennedy’s career, opponent Mitt Romney encountered a Kennedy supporter aggressively waving a sign in his face asserting that Dorchester was “Kennedy Country.” Observing the empty storefronts and decaying urban landscape in the Boston neighborhood, Romney agreed that Dorchester was indeed “Kennedy Country.” Sixteen years later, with the help of the taxpayer, Dorchester will host a cult-of-personality center honoring the late senator assuring its permanence as Kennedy Country.
The federal taxpayer is on the hook for more than $38.3 million for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate. The planned center will be a neighbor to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and, as its name suggests, will promote the career of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Senator John Kerry and Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts slipped the earmarks into the federal budgets for defense and education, among other departments.
The duo seeks an additional $30 million from next year’s budget, which would push the Temple of Ted’s take from the taxpayer to more than $68 million. Both complexes, distant from the UMass-Boston MBTA stop, will undoubtedly accrue millions of dollars more in subsidies via free shuttle-bus trips. It is unclear, what, if any, federal capital will pour into the Institute following these initial subsidies.
Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what your country can do for the Kennedys.
What will the Temple of Ted do with all that money? A spokesman for the institute told the Boston Herald that he could not make public the details of the outfit’s programs since they were “still in development.” And what about siphoning off nearly $19 million from the defense budget as America wages two wars? There will be special programs targeting the children of armed forces personnel, the president of the institute, Peter Meade, assures the Herald.
Following a carefully choreographed August 2009 funeral farewell — with nearly a week of media events, photo-op motorcades, and multiple public services — that cost the city of Boston $431,000 and the state of Massachusetts at least $115,000, the federal government pitching in tens of millions for a Church of St. Ted risks backlash. After all, it’s not as though the Kennedys lack for money and it is as though Americans paying to promote the family’s legacy do. And the polarizing Ted Kennedy has raised hundreds of millions of dollars-for friends and foes-over the course of his half-century in politics. Why can’t the planned Institute raise money from the Kennedy family or the family’s many friends who have subsidized the political ventures of its members?
Indeed, the Institute has already raised an enormous amount of private money. “In lieu of flowers, the Kennedy family requests you consider a contribution for educational programming at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate,” Kennedy’s funeral website announced. To that end, the Temple of Ted has reportedly raised $45 million in private donations.
There is precedent for a center promoting the legacy of a deceased U.S. Senator receiving tax funds. The Dirksen Congressional Center, honoring the former Republican Senate leader, received a $2 million start-up appropriation from the Congress in the late 1970s, as well as subsequent support. But the practice seems rare, and at the gaudy level enjoyed by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate, unprecedented. Most presidents don’t even have official libraries, and the extant presidential libraries rely primarily on private donations.
So, too, do the few outfits honoring deceased senators. The Jesse Helms Center operates on private donations. The Fulbright Center eschews federal funding. Why then should a fellow senator, albeit with a longer tenure but perhaps a less pronounced impact on public policy, garner tens of millions in taxpayer tribute?
The man who occupies the Senate seat Kennedy once held seems to have the right idea. Senator Scott Brown devotes a wall in his Washington office to remembering the man who held his seat for 47 years. This voluntary tribute for the benefit of visiting constituents, rather than a forced tithing of his constituents to benefit the late senator’s reputation, preserves the senator’s memory in a dignified manner that contrasts with to the crass, cultish manner in which Senator Kennedy’s votaries have chosen to honor him.
Worried about the form of government in store for Massachusetts, Abigail Adams wrote her husband a few months before George Washington, from his perch atop Dorchester Heights, drove the British permanently from Boston. “I am more and more convinced that Man is a dangerous creature,” the matriarch of the first family of Massachusetts politics noted, “and that power whether vested in many or a few is ever grasping, and like the grave, cries give, give.”
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