Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Lion

Just before midnight last Tuesday, Senator Edward (Teddy) Kennedy died at his home in Hyannis Port, at the age of 77, just two weeks after his sister, Eunice passed away. He died of brain cancer which he had been diagnosed with in May of last year.
He was a Senator from Massachusetts since 1962 after winning a special election to replace his brother, John Kennedy, who had been promoted to President of the United States. He stayed a Senator until his death, and was the third longest serving Senator in U.S. history at nine terms totaling 47 years.
He was born in Boston in 1932, the youngest of nine children of Joseph P. Kennedy, a prominent and wealthy businessman of Irish ancestry and dubious ethics, and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, also coming from a prosperous political Irish/Catholic family in Boston. His eldest brother Joseph died when 21, 170 pounds of Torpex, an explosive used in torpedos, prematurely detonated in an airplane he was in during World War II. His sister Kathleen also died in an airplane crash when Edward was just sixteen. His sister Rosemary suffered a failed lobotomy when she was 23 and would remain incapacitated and hospitalized for the rest of her life. His brothers John and Robert were both assassinated.
After getting caught cheating on a Spanish test in Harvard he was expelled and joined the Army as an enlisted man, and while stationed in Europe he climbed the Matterhorn, not a small feat as at least 500 climbers have lost their lives attempting to reach the summit. He reentered Harvard and graduated in 1956 with a B.A. in history and government. He graduated law school in 1959. Ted managed his brother John's bid for the Presidency in 1960, in the western part of the nation. In 1962 he took over John's vacant Senate seat, and was reelected to a full term in 1964. He lost John to an assassins bullet in 1963. He survived a plane crash the next year, suffering back injuries (which would cause him chronic pain for the rest of his life) a punctured lung, and broken ribs. In the Senate he helped pass the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended a quota system based on national origen, which would eventually have a huge impact on the demographic makeup of the nation. In 1968, just after winning the California primary for President of the United States, Robert Kennedy was shot and killed. His brother Edward, who had a reputation for oratory prowess, said this at his brother's eulogy: "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: 'Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.'"
In 1969 his car accidentally drove off a bridge into the Poucha Pond, a tidal channel on Chappaquiddick Island, which killed his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, a 28 year old teacher and campaign specialist. Edward was able to swim to safety but left the scene of the accident without reporting it until the following day. He was married at the time to Joan Bennet Kennedy, the mother of his three children, and rumors of infidelity and drunkenness were cast in the media and his upcoming reelection bid was in peril. He pleaded guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident, and received a suspended sentence. And in 1970 he easily won his second full term to the Senate.
Like his two older brothers, Edward ran for President in 1980 against the incumbent member of his own Democratic Party, President Jimmy Carter. His campaign though was disorganized and ineffective and he lost the nomination.
In his following years on the Senate Kennedy was a tireless worker for national heath care reform, stating the goal of universal health care "his life's work." The most visible Democratic figure unapologetically embracing liberal and progressive ideals to pass into law legislation he believed would benefit the entire nation, not for the corporate power brokers or the billionaire elite.
Wikipedia tells us: "He became known as "The Lion of the Senate" through his long tenure and influence. More than 300 bills that Kennedy and his staff wrote were enacted into law. He was known for working with Republicans and finding compromises among senators with disparate views. Kennedy played a major role in passing many laws, including laws addressing immigration, cancer research, health insurance, apartheid, disability discrimination, AIDS care, civil rights, mental health benefits, children's health insurance, education, and volunteering. In the 2000s, he led several unsuccessful immigration reform efforts."
Edward Moore Kennedy was not a perfect man. Events in his personal life dogged him throughout his career. But he never stopped. He always worked hard to make ours a better and richer life. We have all been affected by the laws he helped pass, and by the force of his character. In his own words: He need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, and saw suffering and tried to heal it.
Even in death his influence is still being felt. His passing may be the motivating factor, and rallying cry for the Democrats to buck up and pass public option health care reform.
It would be fitting that his life's work would be advanced at this time. He shall truly be missed.

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