Ted Kennedy was a great man, one whose flaws occasionally dominated headlines but whose legacy will be the lives saved and improved thanks to the numerous bills which bear his name, and which benefited from his wisdom as they moved through the Senate. For a man who lived his life as American royalty – the brother of a slain president and a martyred candidate for the presidency, one of the longest-serving members of the most exclusive club in America – his care for and attention to the needs of the poorest and least powerful Americans is an example to us all, and a reminder to his friends and colleagues who must now carry on his legacy in the Senate.
And carry on they must. Kennedy made no secret of the fact that he wanted health insurance reform to be the crowning achievement of his decades of public service. While his illness prevented him from being as active in the public debate and private negotiations regarding reform bills in the Senate, no one could doubt where he would stand on the great questions, and no one doubts that he would have gladly been wheeled onto the Senate floor to cast a decisive vote if he only had a chance.
It is not asking too much that the Senate honor his memory by making this bill a tribute to the last lion of the Senate, that leaders in the party he served so faithfully for so long should remember both his willingness to negotiate and find bipartisan compromise when possible, and unleash partisan claws when he had to. Let his roar ring out at least this once, though the Senate Democrats be led by kittens.
And let Republicans remember his legacy as well. Despite their demonization of him as the archetypical liberal, as a murderer and worse, he continued to reach across the aisle and find real agreement on issues that matter to Americans. On everything from public housing to funding for AIDS prevention and treatment, he found agreement on principles and on the best solution to problems facing America.
He also knew where to draw the line. He made No Child Left Behind a better bill in many ways, most notably in forcing out a creationist amendment offered with no fanfare by Senator Santorum. Thanks to Kennedy’s efforts, the language was removed from the bill, relegated to a report with no legal authority. His even hand will be missed as Congress takes up federal education policy again in the next year, as it will on so many issues that affect the future of this country, and the well-being of its people.