About the only good thing that could be said about Ted Kennedy's cancer was that he was too ill to preside over a Town Hall meeting without having to be harassed by wingnuts screaming about death panels and euthanizing Grandma.
A major chapter in American politics closed last night when, exactly one year after his rousing appearance at last year's Democratic National Convention, Ted Kennedy succumbed to his glioma brain cancer.
If you have a small child or have ever had a small child who went to Head Start, you have Ted Kennedy to thank for that. Whatever small progressive reforms the Senate let him have for your health care plan, you have Ted Kennedy to thank for that, too. Any help that ever came out of the Senate for working class families had Ted Kennedy's fingerprints and DNA on it.
Senator Edward Kennedy was like Mother Teresa, Walter Cronkite, Queen Elizabeth II and Fidel Castro. No matter how old you are, chances are pretty good that these people have been around and still calling the shots your entire life. After a while, you begin to take their immortality for granted.
Yet Kennedy's 77 year-long life span cannot nor should not be measured in purely political terms. He remembered meeting FDR as a child, forging that tenuous link uniting one liberal champion to another. The third longest-serving Senator of all time had seen it all: The Cuban Missile crisis; the assassination of both his brothers; Martin Luther King's assassination; two major recessions; four wars and was right in the middle of the health care debate up until almost the very end.
Kennedy and his family were forged as much by tragedy as any family had a right to be. Having lived through the deaths of both parents, three brothers and three nephews and, just recently, his sister Eunice, Senator Kennedy's life was a large slice of American history. He had lived center stage in it for almost exactly the last third of the history of our republic.
Few will forget Ted Kennedy coming out after his cancer was diagnosed and heartily endorsing Barack Obama at the Democratic convention with strong but failing voice, his shirt collar and tie hanging loosely about his neck. It evoked in its own way, the dying Lou Gehrig's legendary farewell to baseball. And even in the twilight of his career, when he must have known he was fighting a losing battle with cancer, the senior senator from Massachusetts vowed to be back on the floor on the Senate come January to fight for health care reform. Instead, Ted Kennedy collapsed after suffering a seizure during Barack Obama's inauguration day luncheon. That same day, Sen. Robert Byrd, the longest-serving incumbent senator, was also taken to the hospital on hearing the news.
It's up for speculation who Governor Deval Patrick will appoint as Kennedy's successor or if he will honor the Senator's final wish and to rewrite the law so that he could appoint a temporary successor so as not to interrupt Massachusetts' representation during the health care debate.
But whoever the Bay State's governor appoints, one thing is obvious: The history that Ted Kennedy, a man who'd cast nearly 15,000 votes in the Senate, had both lived and made will not be repeated, reproduced nor relived and his successor will have unusually large expectations to honor.
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