For sixteen years Edward Kennedy was my Senator. Then I left Massachusetts, and now Ted has left all of us. We will all miss the “Lion of the Senate,” as will the Senate itself. I’m not just talking partisan politics here: Kennedy was vital to Congress because he hearkened back to an era when the legislature was co-equal with the President. It’s telling that Barney Frank has called him “the most powerful man never to have been President.” At our nation’s founding, the qualifier would have been unnecessary.
The layout of DC, where I now live, is also telling. The quadrants – NW, NE, SE, and SW – are split at the Capitol, considered the seat of power at the time of the District’s establishment. Yet the capital’s diamond-shaped boundaries center not there but on the White House — what most Americans would today consider the locus of U.S. power. No tourist, domestic or foreign, would fail to know the name of the President (the myriad T-shirts bearing his likeness ensure it), but without Kennedy, I suspect most visitors would be hard-pressed to name a single Congressman or Senator, even their own.
I’ve written before about why Congress needs a Geek Corps, and I continue to hope that the advent of a more decentralized social media will boost the relative power of our legislature vis-a-vis the Presidency, which had enjoyed peculiar primacy due in part to the dominance of broadcast media. President Obama himself seems to recognize the need to restore Congressional power with his deference to the legislature in establishing health care policy — maddening as that might seem to his backers.