Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 6:38 am | Overcast 64º

 
 
 
 

Mark Shields: The ‘Real’ Paul Kirk

The new junior senator from Massachusetts will be following a legend ... quietly

Let me begin with a confession. On Aug. 28, the Friday following the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., on PBS’ NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, David Brooks of The New York Times and I were asked by Judy Woodruff: If somehow Massachusetts Democrats were able to change their state law that denied the state’s governor the authority to fill the vacant Senate seat, who then might be appointed to the Senate by Gov. Deval Patrick?

Mark Shields
Mark Shields

Brooks and I agreed it would require a nominee of “towering reputation” to overcome the taint of being viewed as the beneficiary of a sleazy, back-room deal.

We both mentioned Michael Dukakis, the former governor and 1988 presidential nominee, and I then added, “Paul Kirk, somebody like that who is respected across the board.”

There is absolutely no evidence that Patrick saw, heard or paid any heed to my “nomination” of Kirk. I mention it just to admit upfront that, since I first met him working in California for Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign, I have liked Kirk, who for the next four months will be the junior senator from Massachusetts.

The first thing you should know about Kirk is that he is the soul of discretion. You will not see him, I’m willing to bet, on cable talk shows or calling news conferences. Rare for Washington, he has had a passion for anonymity and was generally so tight-lipped he “would not tell you if your coat was on fire.” He keeps his word, and he would keep your secret.

OK, so he was a loyal friend and lieutenant to Ted Kennedy, but what kind of a leader will Kirk be on his own?

For that answer, you have to go back to 1985, the year after President Ronald Reagan won a 49-state landslide re-election and Democrats’ spirits were lower than a whale’s ankles. The national party was broke and widely viewed as a collection of coddled special interests.

The national Democratic Party then was constitutionally incapable of saying “no” to any semi-organized clique based loosely upon gender, ethnicity, occupation, geography or personal conduct that sought status as a sanctioned party caucus. Caucuses — seemingly from the Transvestite Taxidermists against the Metric System to the Irish-Jewish Federation for the Terminally Short — were forever issuing their own non-negotiable demands upon fearful party leaders. Chairman Kirk — over the noisy threats of caucus addicts — straightforwardly abolished Democratic Party caucuses.

He announced that the Democratic Party would again compete in the South by his decision that Atlanta would be the site of the party’s 1988 national convention. He directed that the written party platform would no longer be an endless compilation of the wish lists of every influence-seeking faction.

Heading into the 1988 general election, the party was solvent, remarkably united and running on a platform that was a relatively succinct, if deliberately vague, statement of principles. Kirk was one of the two best Democratic Party chairmen I have ever watched.

But Kirk will hourly be reminded of the loss of his friend, the man whose seat he now occupies. He may recall the words written after Oliver Cromwell’s agents assassinated the Irish chieftain Owen Roe O’Neill:

Sagest in the council was he, kindest in the Hall,

Sure we never won a battle — ‘twas Owen won them all

Your troubles are all over, you’re at rest on high;

But we’re slaves and we’re orphans, Owen — why did you die?

We’re sheep without a shepherd, when the snow shuts out the sky —
Oh, why did you leave us, Owen? Why did you die?”

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >