Senator Edward Moore Kennedy (D) has died at the age of 77, after 46 years of service in Congress.
He had the good luck to be born into a wealthy and powerful American family, and the bad luck to be born the ‘caboose kid’ in an Irish-American family that imbued its every member with an outsized drive for success at all costs. The old man never let his older brothers Jack and Bobby forget that they’d never measure up to their eldest brother, Joe Jr, his martyred WWII flying ace; the rest of us never let Teddy forget that he’d never measure up to Jack and Bobby, our martyred political heroes. He inherited an orphanage full of traumatized nephews and nieces, the suspicion that his every success would owe more to sentimental nepotism than his own labor, and the undying resentment of every kleptocrat, paleoconservative, and Nixon-spawned ‘Reagan Republican’ bent on turning America into their version of a banana republic.
He survived in the Senate, for eight terms and counting, because he was renowned for his scrupulous adherence to the all-politics-is-local wisdom of “constituent service”. Even his fierciest local critics, the Chappaquiddick Chorus, admit that Kennedy’s office would go the extra mile to untangle the red tape obstructing every missing Social Security check or family-member visa petition. But he earned his “Lion of the Senate” title by fighting to ensure that every American could enjoy some basic level of human dignity, even those without access to a Senator of power and influence.
When his fatal illness was announced last year, a lot of the professional cynics in the “mainstream” media were shocked at how many people, of all political affiliations and income levels, had been touched by Teddy’s kindness while their loved ones were undergoing treatment in Boston’s great medical institutions. Going back to the early 1970s, when his son lost a leg and almost lost his life to bone cancer, it seems that Teddy had done a thousand small kindness for the families of cancer patients, especially pediatric patients — visiting devasted parents and terrified children, arranging special daytrips, setting his staff to battle recalcitrant insurance companies for the benefit of people who’d never have the chance to vote for him, under circumstances where no favorable publicity would accrue to him. The man did some terrible and many very stupid things in his life, but he also spent half a century in service, public and private, as atonement.
The glee of Senator Kennedy’s enemies and ours will be unbounded over the next few days. I’m sure the birfers, astroturfers, industry shills, talibangelicals, Blue Dog DINOs, glibertarians, neocons, and general malefactors of great wealth will weep crocodile tears as they lament that Teddy’s death should not be used as an opportunity by crass liberals to pass the kind of serious health care reform he spent the last thirty years championing. And that, my friends and President Obama, is why it’s time to come back after Labor Day with a single coherent Senator Edward M. Kennedy Health Care Reform Bill, and to twist whatever arms, ears, or other parts are necessary to get a good strong comprehensive bill passed and signed, NOW. We owe the memory of a great man no less.