He went into the Senate when he had barely reached the required age. There were those who said he would never make it there, that he would be a boy among men. He came into Washington and the halls of government at the time his brother Jack was the President and Bobby headed the Justice Department as Attorney General. In the early days all he could prove was that he had strong work ethic. He proved that, but he also proved to be a playboy of sorts.
Soon the tragedies began to mount: the deaths by assassins bullets visited first on Jack, and then on Bobby. Then the Chappaquiddick incident occurred in 1969, and he almost lost it all. It was a sad and shocking incident in which a young woman who had been a campaign worker for Bobby was found drowned and still under water in a car that had been driven by the young Senator Ted. He was adjudged to have been innocent of wrong-doing, but the national uproar continued. He was on the verge of resigning his Senate seat, but cooler heads prevailed, and whether he should leave or stay was put to a non-binding state referendum, and the voters of Massachusetts spoke loudly in their support of Edward Moore (Teddy) Kennedy continuing.
Continue he did. Ted Kennedy held his seat for just short of 47 years, a remarkable feat. After Chappaquiddick he was seen to “knuckle down” and work in earnest. He applied his work ethic on behalf of the people in his home state and the people of the Nation. He was no longer moving in the shadow of his brothers, but he still carried the standard for those things they believed in. He became a vociferous champion of Civil Rights; he espoused the rights of racial minorities, and the rights of women. He became the voice of the disenfranchised, and of the poor. This man who had been a child of privilege in a remarkable family of privilege found his voice and his message in his work for those who did not enjoy that same privilege.
Senator Ted Kennedy was a proud Liberal. He proudly retained that label even when it was looked on as a hindrance, when other Liberals were hiding behind the new label, “Progressive” because of the politics of the times. He was a proud Liberal, yes, but he was also a pragmatist. He was probably one of the very last Senators to believe that his political positions did not put him at war with those who held different views. He knew that the business of government required that both political parties work together. He was often the catalyst for this compromise. He was effective to a remarkable degree. He championed health care availability, and was instrumental in seeing that the needs of the Massachusetts health programs were funded to whatever degree could be allowed and using whatever Federal Funds could be allocated for that purpose. He worked toward health care for the elderly, for children, and finally access to health care for all.
It had been his cause from its beginnings in 1966, to the contentious debate that presently rings through the chambers of the offices of the Government. Universal Health Care: the dream, the ideal. It is the dream that sees the United States joining almost all of the industrialized western nations in providing for the health needs of those who are unable to access the care that is so necessary to living a life of the quality that everyone deserves. It was Senator Kennedy’s passion. It was Senator Kennedy’s dream.
There is a sad irony that we should have lost Ted Kennedy during this period of dissension caused by the debate over health care. There are those who say that had the Senator been healthy and able to shepherd the bill through the Senate, we would see a result that would answer the prayers of the many who must go without any form of health care because they are uninsured and poor.
He has been called the Lion of the Senate. To some, he is the last Lion. His voice has been stilled, but it would benefit this country to remember his legacy and to know that his legacy is still alive and still with us.