Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy, youngest child of Kennedy family patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Kennedy, and brother of both assassinated US President John F. Kennedy (JFK) and assassinated US senator Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy (RFK), died last night of brain cancer. He was 77 years old, and a forty-year veteran democratic US senator from the US state of Massachusetts.
Ted Kennedy was known as the “lion of the senate”in his later terms of office. He was a true and formidable champion of the poor, the down-trodden, the sick, the elderly, the minority population groups…anyone that needed a helping and or an equal opportunity. He was instrumental in passing legislation regarding civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, equal rights, patient’s rights, quality education programs, health care programs such as medicaid and prescription assistance for seniors and guaranteed health care for children. His strong personal socially-liberal value system belied the fact that he had been raised as a privileged child in a very wealthy, aristocratically oriented family.
But besides his liberal agenda, he was also known and respected by the conservative senators and politicians who knew him for his ability to compromise and negotiate fairly with them to achieve workable legislation in the senate, even when the conservatives were in control of the US senate. A classic example of this was the Bush education bill of 2002, which he and the conservative president GW Bush worked on together. This compromise assured its passage and its signing into law by the president (who later reneged on funding for several aspects of the law. Read more of this HERE.)
Another example was the Kennedy-McCain Immigration Reform legislation of 2007. And there are many, many more examples which any reader can research here, for starters.
Ted Kennedy was not with his imperfections and life-mistakes. For example, In 1952, at the age of 20, he was caught cheating on an exam at the prestigious Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was expelled for two years.
But the worst incident occurred in the summer of 1969, when Kennedy, as a 7-year US senator and heir-apparent to the democratic US presidential nomination for 1972 and/or 1976, drove his car off an unlit bridge late at night on Chappaquiddick Island, part or Martha’s Vineyard Island in Massachusetts, after a party. His passenger, a pretty 29-year old campaign worker named Mary Jo Kopechne, drown. Kennedy himself escaped the sinking vehicle and swam to safety, but after consulting with aides, failed to report the incident to police for ten hours. The ensuing public scrutiny threatened to end Kennedy’s senate career as well as any further political ambitions.
Although Kennedy was able to retain the loyalty of Massachusetts voters and keep his US senate seat, his chances of winning enough support to win the democratic presidential nomination for president in both 1972 and 1976 were gone. And although he did run in 1980, he failed against incumbent democratic US president Jimmy Carter. He simply could not shake off the specter of the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident.
However, as a result of his 1980 loss and his soul-searching, he gave what many consider the most inspiring speech of his life, known today as “the dream is alive” speech at the August 1980 democratic convention in New York City.
While Kennedy had resolved that he would never again try to follow in the footsteps of his two older brothers to the presidential nomination, others still urged him to try again in 1984. Instead, Kennedy made it clear to the entire world that his presidential ambitions were totally behind him. In doing so, he disarmed all who claimed that all that he did, and was doing, was for ulterior political gain. This was the turning point for Ted Kennedy, who now would become the statesman which has earned him the respect and friendship of liberals and conservatives alike, including all who have worked with him over the years in the US senate.
Of course, there are always the ultra-right lunatic fringe of hate-mongers who rejoice in the death of liberals…any liberals. The only US senator Kennedy never had a cordial working relationship with was Jesse Helms, the in-your-face ultra-right racist white-male-supremacist from North Carolina. And crawling on their bellies through the mud in Helm’s embarrassing claw-steps are the ultra-extreme-right bloggers and web sites spewing their hatred for Ted Kennedy and their absolute joy regarding his death. But by their very nature, they have little to no credibility (probably mirroring their intellectual capabilities), and thus, are simply a faint din in the shadow of a great man who did great things.
Those great things are not yet over, either. Ted Kennedy was a champion of health care reform, and was working on achieving compromise with fellow conservative senators. Whether compromise can now still be achieved is any one’s guess, but the smart money is that it will be, if no for no other reason than in honor of the man himself.
JFK set a goal of landing a man on the moon, which, in his death, was achieved. RFK set a goal of getting the USA out of Vietnam, which, in his death, also was achieved. Ted Kennedy’s ultimate goal was true equality among all people. Universal health care for all was but one facet of that goal.
It’s a good bet that in his death, this too will eventually come to pass.
For now…..Teddy, Hail, and Farewell. We hardly knew ye.