Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kennedy Family Patriarch Dies

Ted Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy family has died. He died in his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts after a lengthy battle with a malignant brain tumor. He will be fondly remembered for the indelible mark he left on American politics. He died fighting until the end and was indeed one of those rare individuals who truly embodied the American spirit. He was 77.

For all his accomplishments, Ted Kennedy battled so many demons. He battled an alcohol addiction and was a rabid womanizer. His flaws severely detracted from his many talents and often cost him dearly. Nonetheless, he was driven not so much by political ambition, but rather by the desire to be a good man and a great American. His cancer diagnosis did not prevent him from making his presence felt, especially on the issue of health care. His death is bittersweet, coming at this juncture in history, where health care has taken center stage in a period the outcome of which could change the landscape of this nation for a long time.

Ted’s health scare, the tumor, was made public in May of 2008 after doctors discovered an inoperable tumor in his brain. Despite the prognosis and the advice that he received from his doctors, Ted still sought out help and insisted on under going and operation at Duke Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Although the surgery was successful, Ted’s prognosis remained grim. He would endure chemotherapy after the surgery, which was quite inconsequential.

Managing to remain in the public eye, Ted’s most recent appearance was at the signing of a health care bill named in the honor of his family. In spite of his privilege, he struggled for the down trodden and fought bravely for equality for all. His desire was to see healthcare become a right and not a privilege. He called his ardent struggle for affordable healthcare for all the “cause of my life.”

Ted’s presence in the Senate will be greatly missed, after 46 years of service on the floor. His service puts him in the ranks as one the longest serving Senator in the history of the United States, his tenure rivaled by that of Strom Thurmond from South Carolina and Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.

Like his brothers John and Robert, Ted had tried to win the presidency, but his bid was colored by what came to be known as the Chappaquiddick incidence, where Ted fled the scene of an accident. He had been driving a car that had swerved and fallen into a lake with his brother, Robert’s aide, the 28 year-old Mary Jo, Kopechne strapped inside. Ted failed to report the incident to the police until several hours had elapsed. The accident raised many questions and also raised the issue of privilege considering Ted got a mere slap on the wrist.

His poor judgment in the matter led many to question his character. He would pay dearly for the infraction, losing his bid for the presidency to fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter. Had Ted won his party’s nomination, it is almost certain that he would have won the presidency and perhaps might have changed the landscape of American history.

Born Edward Moore Kennedy on February 22, 1932 in Brookline, Massachusetts to John P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald, Ted was the last of nine children and the fourth son. He was born into a family where talk of political ambition and power dominated and into the affluence and trappings of what would become known as the “Kennedy curse.” His parents were influential Irish Roman Catholics whose stake in American politics bequeathed their children the wings and roots necessary for pursuit of whatever political office they desired both in the state of Massachusetts and in the nation’s capital. Ted attended Harvard College and the University of Virginia School of Law. He fathered three children, Kara Anne Kennedy, Edward Moore Kennedy, and John Patrick Kennedy, products of his first marriage to socialite Virginia Joan Kennedy. The marriage ended in divorce. Kennedy then married Washington lawyer Victoria Reggie Kennedy who is often credited with bringing stability to his life.

At the Democratic National Convention last August in Denver, Colorado, Ted made a surprise appearance and gave a speech that electrified the crowd. Following an introduction by his niece Caroline Kennedy, he gave a speech that was reminiscent of one he had given several years ago at the Democratic Convention in 1980. His speech was significant because he was passing on the torch to Barack Obama, a civil rights victory, and a testament to the Act his brother John had signed several years before. But importantly, Obama embodied the charm and the essence of Camelot and can be described as the last of the Kennedy brothers.

Though living to old age, Ted’s life was often peppered with tragedy. He had to endure the death of his eldest brother Jack, who died in a plane crash, and then the assassinations of his brothers, John and Robert. Ted had his own brush with death on several occasions, managing to escape a drowning accident and then a plane crash that left him with a bad back that forced to walk with a gait. The untimely death of his brothers would spur Ted into the role of patriarch, as he became a surrogate father to his numerous nieces and nephews.

Known for being polarizing at times, Kennedy was often known to work across party lines, making friends of foes and brokering deals that were in the best interest of the nation. He battled a host of demons that included womanizing, alcoholism, weight problems and several health challenges. His final demon was his battle with the tumor that sought to snuff out his life. For all his demons, Ted did achieve over his brothers, for he lived to old age, a feat that his brothers Jack, John, and Robert never accomplished. He not only outlive his brothers, but unfortunately attended the funerals of a number of nieces and nephews, including that of the prince of Camelot, his nephew, John F. Kennedy Jr.

John M. Broder writes: “Teddy was the youngest, the little bear whom everyone cuddled, whom no one took seriously and from whom little was expected. He reluctantly and at times awkwardly carried the Kennedy standard, with all it implied and all it required. And yet, some scholars contend, he may have proved himself the most worthy.”

Norman J. Ornstein, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute writes: “He was a quintessential Kennedy, in the sense that he had all the warts as well as all the charisma and a lot of the strengths…If his father, Joe, had surveyed, from an early age up to the time of his death, all of his children, his sons in particular, and asked to rank them on talents, effectiveness, likelihood to have an impact on the world, Ted would have been a very poor fourth. Joe, John, Bobby ... Ted.”

For all his imperfections, Ted was a fighter and a survivor. He managed to escape the Kennedy curse, dying from what kills even the best of us: cancer. He did not die in a plane crash like his brother Jack or even like his sister Kathleen. He managed to escape the assassin’s bullet that felled his brothers John and Robert and lived to be an old man. He is indeed in the words of President Barack Obama, "the greatest Senator of our time." He will be sorely missed and fondly remembered as the great American who died fighting.

Photograph courtesy of The Huffington Post.

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