Most of us in America, including me, are too young to remember the Camelot era firsthand, so we hold little brief for the Kennedy mystique. Many of us wonder how he got re-elected to the Senate, term after term, for 47 years, despite his well-documented failures of character. Surely there had to be more to it than his name.
Well, one reason might be the long parade of stooges who were his opponents. During the few years I lived in Boston, I was privileged to vote for Kennedy just once, when he ran against a hairdo named Mitt Romney. I remember thinking that Kennedy, then 62 years old, seemed enervated and out of touch until the debates, when the old lion roared back to life, fought with vigor, and easily wiped the floor with his empty-suit rival. This is why I voted for him, and why Massachusetts citizens kept doing so: he never stopped fighting, fighting for us, and fighting against those who did not have our best interests at heart.
I’m glad to see that, despite his death last week, the fight continues for causes he believed in, particularly for universal health care. After all, his opponents didn’t waste any time after he died trying to recast his legacy as one of compromise (Kennedy was, indeed, known for reaching across the aisle to befriend and make deals with Republicans, but he compromised only on means and tactics, never on ideals or policy goals), or shrugging that his absence from the Senate chambers in recent months is the reason Republicans have yet to be presented with a health care bill they can sign off on (as if Kennedy’s recent absence, after 40 years of fighting nonstop for health care reform, were the reason, rather than Republican intransigence and bad faith), or threatening that to urge passage of health care reform as his dying wish was to crassly politicize his death (as if to argue against reform would not be an even more crass politicization of his death). Kennedy’s dying wishes on the matter were pretty clear, as he laid out in this Newsweek essay a month before he died: he wanted universal coverage and a government-run public option so that individuals who can’t afford or obtain private health insurance can still get affordable coverage. (Note to Blue Dog Democrats: Passing a health bill with Kennedy’s name on it that pays lip service to reform while not actually including a public option that would make coverage affordable for everyone is no tribute at all.)
One more way to remember Senator Kennedy, courtesy of the Rascals, after the jump.In 1968, after his brother Robert was assassinated, the reluctant Ted Kennedy, the youngest of the nine Kennedy siblings, had to assume the family mantle, not just as patriarch to the rest of the clan, but as standard-bearer of the dream his brothers had articulated. To offer him moral support, the Rascals, fresh off their hit peace anthem “People Got to Be Free,” wrote a song for Ted called “A Ray of Hope,” expressing optimism that he would be able to carry on his brothers’ legacy. Over decades of tireless work in the Senate and countless legislative successes on behalf of people in need, Ted Kennedy certainly did that. Today, the song, which still sounds fresh, lovely, and inspirational, stands as an equally fitting eulogy to Ted, as well as a call to action for those of us who shared his dream. Listen to it here, then go on, do your work.