Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy, 1932-2009

I've defended Ted Kennedy against my ignorant political adversaries for years, but as I look back at his long career, I realize even I failed to fully grasp and appreciate his accomplishments.

I knew he was a man born into incredible wealth, yet dedicated his life to public service. And I don't mean becoming a professional politician—I mean True Public Service. I knew he dedicated his Senate career to champion the causes of the working class, to fight discrimination, for justice and equality. But I did not realize how great a hand he had in so many events that helped shape the country I take for granted. How his total contributions make him perhaps the greatest Senator to ever hold office.

The Immigration Act of 1965...The Fair Housing Act (1968)... The Bilingual Education Act (1968)...Lowering the age to vote to 18 (1970)... Occupational Health and Safety Act (1970)... Meals on Wheels (1972)... Title IX (1972)... Disabilities Education Act (1975)... Employment Opportunities for Disabled Americans Act (1986)... Americorps... Family and Medical Leave Act (1994)... Children’s Health Insurance Program (1997)... Patients' Bill of Rights... Increasing the Minimum Wage several times...

And those are just the bills he wrote and sponsored. Throw in the support for the Civil Rights Movements in the 60s , and the dozens of less-known bills and his stalwart support for other good legislation and you can make a real case that Senator Ted Kennedy did more for more people and the cause of true democracy and equality than almost any politician in the country's history.

He still wore "Liberal" like a badge of honor long after it became a term of derision and was abandoned by almost all politicians. He used the safety of his seat to do what was right without regard to the politics and electoral considerations that paralyze the rest of the Democratic party.

He took the tragedies that befell him and his family and his own flaws and failings and dedicated his life to the powerless and downtrodden—at home and abroad.

He was "The Liberal." He was a fighter. He never sold out. And he never gave up.


His long list of accomplishments here.

For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.

I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as President from his encouragement and wisdom.

An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time.

For me, there are two types of senators worth emulating. One is best exemplified by Paul Wellstone, an unapologetic fighter who never backs down. The other is Teddy Kennedy, who got more accomplished than any senator in history by knowing when to cut a deal. For me, this is Kennedy's most important legacy. He will be studied by every future senator. And I hope those senators learn something from the exercise.

We've just lost the best and most effective senator to ever serve in the institution. As a man, he had large flaws. As a politician, he had no peer.

Robert Reich:
America has had a few precious individuals who are both passionate about social justice and also understand deep in their bones its practical meaning. And we have had a few who possess great political shrewdness and can make the clunky machinery of democratic governance actually work. But I have known but one person who combined all these traits and abilities. His passing is an inestimable loss.

Most Americans will never know how many things Ted Kennedy did to make their lives better, how many things he prevented that would have hurt them, and how tenaciously he fought on their behalf. In 1969, for example, he introduced a bill in the Senate calling for universal health insurance, and then, for the next forty years, pushed and prodded colleagues and presidents to get on with it. If and when we ever achieve that goal it will be in no small measure due to the dedication and perseverance of this one remarkable man. We owe it to him and his memory to do it soon and do it well.

Kennedy, one of the last unabashed liberals on the political stage and a warrior for progressive causes, was 77. Rest in peace, Senator. You will be sorely missed.

It is a shame Kennedy couldn't have lived long enough to see his dream of universal healthcare coverage become a reality. Although, at this rate, it's not a sure bet any of us will. Recently, I saw someone suggest that Kennedy's demise might spur Democrats to push harder for a more progressive reform bill. Far more likely is that the business-as-usual crowd and the sad-sack "centrists" will secretly sigh in relief and whisper "Thank god that pain in the ass is out of the way."

I have some thoughts of my own, but I'm just coming off deadline, and can barely string together a post of blockquotes. More to come...

UPDATE: An excellent profile by Charlie Pierce from 2003.

UPDATE 2: PETITION TO THE SENATE: "Ted Kennedy was a courageous champion for health care reform his entire life. In his honor, name the reform bill that passed Kennedy's health committee 'The Kennedy Bill' -- then pass it, and nothing less, through the Senate." Sign it. Even though I don't think Harry Reid gives a shit, it's the least we can do. Reform opponents are willing to make public spectacles of themselves—the least we can do is sign the petition.


Bob said...

"...but as I look back at his long career, I realize even I failed to fully grasp and appreciate his accomplishments."

Isn't that the sad truth when anyone dies? Maybe there is a little bit of whitewashing when someone dies, but it seems to me that we really overlook an individual's accomplishments until after they are gone.

I always seem to get into the music of the dead right after a musician passes: i.e. Roy Orbison, and Johnnie Cash.

Smitty said...

Liberal. In the classic sense of the word, it simply means someone who grants and believes in liberty. Freedom.

Kennedy realized that you can't be truly free if you are sick, poor, taken advantage of by business overlords, young, or the victim of racist policies. So he dedicated his whole career towards eliminating those barriers for people who could then realize true freedom.

Does it ever make you look in the mirror and ask what you've done? His passing, like the passing of so many other people who work for people other than themselves, makes me reflect on that. Here's a guy whose siblings died tragically and violently, who had a trust fund that was large enough so he never had to work...and instead, he used his position and perseverance to do right.

I, by comparison, bitched all morning about the thigh I strained at the gym yesterday and how it makes me walk just a little like a cowboy.

julie said...

Thanks so much for writing about Teddy, Mr F. We are so sad here in Massachusetts. He was a great man.

Anonymous said...

Just to show the "person" ...

1. He was caught cheating at Harvard when he attended it. He was expelled twice, once for cheating on a test, and once for paying a classmate to cheat for him.

2. While expelled, Kennedy enlisted in the Army, but mistakenly signed up for four years instead of two. His
father, Joseph P. Kennedy, former U.S. Ambassador to England, pulled the necessary strings to have his enlistment shortened to two years, and to ensure that he served in Europe,
not Korea , where a war was raging. No preferential treatment for him!
(like he charged that President Bush received).

3. Kennedy was assigned to Paris , never advanced beyond the rank of
Private, and returned to Harvard upon being discharged. Imagine a person of
his "education" NEVER advancing past the rank of Private!

4. While attending law school at the University of Virginia , he was
cited for reckless driving four times, including once when he was clocked
driving 90 miles per hour in a residential neighborhood with his headlights
off after dark. Yet his Virginia driver's
license was never revoked. Coincidentally, he passed the bar exam in 1959.

5. In 1964, he was seriously injured in a plane crash, and hospitalized
for several months. Test results done by the hospital at the time he was
admitted had shown he was legally intoxicated. The results of those tests
remained a "state secret" until in the 1980's when the report was unsealed..

Didn't hear about that from the unbiased media, did we?

Got some more coming ...

Anonymous said...

6. On July 19, 1969, Kennedy attended a party on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts . At about 11:00 PM, he borrowed his chauffeur's keys to his Oldsmobile limousine, and offered to give a ride home to Mary Jo Kopechne, a campaign worker. Leaving the island via an unlit bridge with no guard rail,

Kennedy steered the car off the bridge, flipped, and into Poucha Pond.

7. He swam to shore and walked back to the party, passing several houses and a fire station.. Two friends then returned with him to the scene of the accident. According to their later testimony, they told him what he already knew - that he was required by law to immediately report the accident to the authorities. Instead Kennedy made
his way to his hotel, called his lawyer, and went to sleep. Kennedy called the police the next morning and by then the wreck had already been discovered. Before dying, Kopechne had scratched at the upholstered floor above her head in the upside-down car.

The Kennedy family began "calling in favors", ensuring that any inquiry
would be contained. Her corpse was whisked out-of-state to her family,
before an autopsy could be conducted. It is widely assumed Kennedy was drunk,
and he held off calling police in hopes that his family could fix the
problem overnight. He plead guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, and
was given a SUSPENDED SENTENCE OF TWO MONTHS. Kopechne's family received a
small payout from the Kennedy's insurance policy, and never sued.

8. Kennedy has held his Senate seat for more than forty years, but considering his longevity, his accomplishments seem scant. He authored or argued for legislation that ensured a variety of civil rights, increased the minimum wage in 1981, made access to health care easier for the indigent,
and funded Meals on Wheels for fixed-income seniors and is widely held as the "standard-bearer for liberalism". In his very first Senate roll, he was the floor manager for the bill that turned U.S. immigration policy upside
down and opened the floodgate for immigrants from third world countries.

9. Since that time, he has been the prime instigator and author of every expansion of an increase in immigration, up to and including the latest attempt to grant amnesty to illegal aliens. Not to mention the pious grilling he gave the last two Supreme Court nominees, as if he was the
standard bearer for the nation in matters of "what's right".

10. He is known around Washington as a public drunk, loud, boisterous and very disrespectful to ladies. "A blonde in every pond" is his motto.

Let's not allow the spin doctors to make this jerk a hero -- how quickly the American public forgets what his real legacy is.

Mr Furious said...

Thanks for enlightening us, Mr Anonymous Troll. Chappaquiddick? Never heard of it...

In plenty of comments elsewhere (where I use my pseudonym) I commented more specifically on Kennedy's fucked up personal history.

That wasn't the point of this post, and I left it at "flaws and failings" and concentrated on his legislative accomplishments.

You're obviously a winger who disagrees with everything Kennedy stands for. The fact you have such a strong opinion must mean he pissed you off and screwed your agenda for a good, long time.

That confirms his ass-kicking accomplishments as a Senator for me.


As for preferential treatment, NFLer Donte Stallworth just received a 60-day vehicular manslaughter sentence for running down a pedestrian while drunk driving. Pretty sure he's not a Kennedy.