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The deification of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy began before his body was cold. So at this point there’s little we can add to the well-deserved accolades and hagiographies of the Lion of the Senate. But watching the funeral on television last weekend, we were struck by one pervasive thought: The U.S. Congress needs more Ted Kennedys.

Say what you want about his moral flaws, his problematic boozing and skirt-chasing and, yes, Chappaquiddick. Certainly that stuff marred his legacy, and it probably kept him out of the Oval Office. But in the halls of the Capitol, Kennedy was the last of a vanishing breed, a master legislator and dealmaker who hewed to progressive ideals of justice, civil rights and fair treatment for all. He was imperfect as a man, but in the corridors of power he gave voice to a liberal idealism that is under-represented not just in Congress, but in the Democratic Party as well.

Until his dying breath, the courage of Kennedy’s convictions and the unending fire in his belly for those issues he felt passionate about remained evident. We saw it last July, when in the midst of his struggle with an ultimately fatal brain tumor, Kennedy returned to the Senate floor to break a GOP filibuster on a bill that would reverse Republican cuts to Medicare.

Health care, as he famously declared, was “the cause of my life.” For nearly 40 years, he led the fight for universal health care – and indeed, along the way he often seemed its only champion – and it’s a cosmic tragedy of the first order that now, with health-care reform closer than it’s ever been, Kennedy goes to that great debating society in the sky.

In the here and now, however, the battle continues. And it’s a mortally depressing thing to realize that, while the U.S. Congress may need more Ted Kennedys, we here in Florida are stuck with Bill Nelson and George LeMieux.

LeMieux is a placeholder, an ass to warm the chair for Gov. Charlie Crist, who short of a total collapse will become Florida’s new junior senator in January 2011.

Crist is Ted Kennedy’s polar opposite, not in ideology, per se, but in the fact that the governor’s only deeply held conviction is his own advancement. His appointment of LeMieux isn’t entirely shocking. But really, what do you expect?

We do expect more from Bill Nelson. And we ain’t getting it. If the late Massachusetts senator was a lion, then Florida’s senior senator is a mangy housecat, scampering under the couch at the first sign of trouble. This is a man who needs three pills and a cup of coffee to move four inches. Other than his brief trip into orbit two decades ago, Nelson has done nothing to distinguish himself.

And there Nelson was last week – the very day Kennedy slipped this mortal coil – once again exemplifying what a tepid, pathetic excuse for a Democrat he is. In front of a gathering of hoity-toities and Tiger Bay types, Nelson, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, announced that he wanted a slow-going, “incremental” approach to health care – rather than, you know, the kind of reform that actually does anything.

Nelson says it’ll just be too gosh-darned hard to pass laws that matter, so you poor uninsured people should just be patient. And try not to get sick.

The country’s biggest reforms – Medicare, Social Security, civil rights – didn’t come easy. They required men of courage and stature to put themselves on the line to move this country forward. Men like Ted Kennedy. You, senator, are no Ted Kennedy.

Whether it’s in the crazy-eyed town hall LaRouchites, dead Heath Ledger-as-the-Joker homages in poster form or Basterd Brad Pitt’s scalp-rendering pronunciation of “Nazzies,” if the last month has taught us anything it’s that Hitler is back back back! You got an issue? Paint a tiny rectangular mustache on it and make it zing, context be damned!

But while we’ve become accustomed – even callous – to the crass utilization of Der Führer in reference to Barack Obama and his hateful policies intended to make sure that everybody has access to medical care, we didn’t really see this one coming. Conspiracy crazypants Alex Jones – he of the tin-foil-hat talk radio and like-minded websites and – has set his (or at least Prison Planet scribe Paul Joseph Watson’s) WWII-era sights on the unlikely personage of Matthew Falconer.

Falconer, you’ll recall, is the black-sheep libertarian angling for the Orange County mayor’s position (“How to run a campaign and alienate people,” July 23). Near the top of a Prison Planet blog post titled “Florida candidate for mayor wants 1,000-strong youth spy force” published last week, Falconer is deemed a “frontrunner” and then compared to Hitler. Mein what?

“[Falconer] proposes to combat crime in the area by creating a 1,000-person strong spy force who would cruise around neighborhoods on bikes reporting suspicious behavior to uniformed supervisors,” writes our dear Watson, “a creepy program with dark undertones of the Hitler Youth program of 1930’s Germany.”

Oh, dear.

Falconer -– who would probably rather this week’s news cycle include his first campaign promise of never accepting a public pension, or his second of taking a 10 percent pay cut from the going mayor’s salary – says that he’s received at least 50 e-mails calling him a “Nazi.”  So, uh, he’s now “pulled that plank from [his] program.”

“Sometimes the medicine is worse than the disease,” Falconer cryptically concedes; some of the arguments made sense, he says, adding that his plans for lowering taxes will naturally result in a lower crime rate, because that’s just how it works in capitalist America, comrades.

Sometimes things work out: Earthquakes squeeze up pretty volcanoes; broken levees birth new trailer cities; lightning silences a stupid fountain in the middle of Lake Eola, allowing us all to realize that a $500,000 deductible on a $1 million insurance policy is comedy gold. Tunnels have lights at the end of them, on occasion.

But when we directed our attention to the parking quagmire besieging Ivanhoe Village earlier this summer (“Not our problem,” July 9) – wherein the city and Lake Highland Prep were swallowing up all of the parking places the poor merchants needed near Antique Row – it seemed like the businesses were screwed, because the city was all, “Make your own parking, stupid businesses!”

Well, it turns out that, through some collective bargaining between the Ivanhoe Village Mainstreeters, the Florida Department of Transportation and the city’s transportation division, the area businesses were able to come up with 114 new street parking spaces on surrounding thoroughfares, bringing the total number of spaces to 208. According to the Ivanhoe Village newsletter, some of these were there all along, they just didn’t have signs or visible lines to let anybody know. Now everything is apparently fine and the city and business folks will continue their lovefest, while the area considers the possibility of valet parking once everybody is rich.

“We’re working on solutions,” says commissioner Robert Stuart in an e-mail. “They just take time.”

What could be more totally awesome than reading this column (and the newspaper it’s wrapped in) on dead trees or zinging electrons every week? Nothing. Trick question. But should you find yourself out of reach of a Weekly dispensary and unable to gank some free Wi-Fi, there’s still hope. Reps from this super-popular column are on the radio every Wednesday at 3:05 p.m. as a regular part of George Crossley’s hell-raising People Power Hour on WEUS-AM (810). Happytown™ power to the people!
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