Seldom do we get to eulogize someone whose passing carries import that is both contemporary and historic. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is one such person.
Seldom do we get to eulogize someone whose passing carries import that is both contemporary and historic.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is one such person.
In the immediate sense, Kennedy’s death Tuesday removes from the current debate over health-care reform the most enduring and steadfast voice on that issue of the last four decades. Kennedy’s commitment to making health care affordable for and available to all Americans dated back to December 1969, when he voiced his desire to establish comprehensive national health insurance.
A November 2008 op-ed piece Kennedy wrote for The Washington Post now seems prescient: “I’m sure opponents will dust off the same old slogans they have used to try to block every major advance in health care. They will call it ‘socialized medicine’ and a ‘government takeover,’ just as they did when they opposed Medicare and the children’s health program — and they are just as wrong today as they were then.”
Only days ago, Sens. John McCain and Orrin Hatch, both prominent Republicans, voiced regret that Kennedy’s health had severely limited his presence in the health-care debate that is now, arguably, the country’s top issue. Kennedy’s long commitment to and extensive knowledge of the issue, coupled with his unparalleled ability to forge alliances across party lines, likely would have led to a workable plan without the rancor that has colored the debate thus far, they said.
Yet the sad irony of the timing of Kennedy’s death this week is a mere footnote to the larger historic context.
Kennedy ranked second in Senate longevity to Robert Byrd among current senators, but his place in modern political history was unmatched by any of his contemporaries in Congress. He wasn’t old enough to inherit his brother John’s Senate seat when John was elected president in 1960, so he waited until 1962. Much of the country saw him for the first time a year later in the aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Nearly five years later, he was at center stage again, delivering a stirring eulogy for his slain brother Robert at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. It’s an iconic image that represents the tumult and heartbreak that gripped this country in 1968.
Kennedy’s longevity and effectiveness in the Senate was nothing short of amazing considering the self-inflicted wounds he suffered throughout his career.
Most infamously, of course, was the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in a car accident at Chappaquiddick in July 1969. Kennedy’s actions before and after the accident have been topics of heated discussion ever since, and the incident competed in the headlines with the Apollo moon mission. It would render Kennedy an unviable presidential candidate ever after. There would be many other times when Kennedy’s personal life provided embarrassing distractions from his work, yet Kennedy always managed to overcome them.
While much of the mourning of Kennedy’s death will focus on the loss of the direct connection to the JFK era, we hope it provokes some soul searching in Congress. We can’t recall an issue so important that has unleashed such a torrent of national anger and division as the health-care debate. It’s a complicated issue that, unfortunately, is all too often getting simplistic treatment in public forums.
We strongly second the sentiments of Sens. McCain and Hatch: This country needs someone like Ted Kennedy. Someone who, despite the mention of his name causing controversy in some circles, could bring disparate interests together when he deemed the cause sufficiently important.
Springfield (Ill.) State Journal-Register