It is sad news indeed, if not entirely unexpected, to hear of Senator Ted Kennedy’s passing. The man was a titan, a political legend, whose inspiration as a classical liberal champion was the role model for an entire generation of politicians and citizen activists alike. He dedicated himself to the cause of the poor, underpriveleged, and the weak, and thus earned the veomous hatred of conservatives who delighted in pointing out his personal tragedies. These critics never managed to unseat him or derail his legislative success – it is worth noting that one of his greatest achievements was the creation of Medicare part D – during the Republican era of President Bush, no less.
The clues to Kennedy’s imminent passing were clear; Senator Kennedy could not even attend his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s funeral just two weeks ago, and last week made an urgent appeal to the Massachusetts legislature to change the law permitting the Governor to appoint a successor to his seat, rather than wait five months for a special election in January. This plea was refused by the legislature, for good reason – the governor of MA actually did have the power to appoint a successor to a vacant Senate seat, but that power was removed by the Democratic-controlled legislature in 2004. The reason was blatantly political, as it was Senator Kerry who was poised to vacate the seat if he’d won the election, but with Republican Mitt Romney as governor at the time, it would have been a Republican appointed to fill the seat in the interim.
This decision to play politics in 2004 has now come round to hurt the liberal ambition of health care reform today in 2009, as with Senator Kennedy’s passing, the Democrats have lost a key vote in the likely contentious final showdown over the issues. The Senate in particular is the main bottleneck, where the Democrats inexplicably remain intent on “bipartisanship” while the Republicans blatantly state that there’s no way to satisfy them. The Senate is where the battle for health reform will be fought and Senator Kennedy’s absence will be sorely missed, not just by the Democrats for their political gain but also by the 70 million people who lack insurance coverage or who are underinsured. For their sake, the fight for insurance reform must not have been in vain – but without Senator Kennedy, it’s a lot tougher a hill to climb.
Related: CBS has some excerpts of famous speeches by Senator Kennedy, and the Washington Post has video of his most famous speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1980. I think that this passage from his own eulogy of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, says it best however:
“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.”
Rest in peace, Senator Kennedy. We’ll get it done.