WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy of Massachusetts, the last surviving brother in a political dynasty and one of the most influential and longest serving senators in American history, died Aug. 25 at his Hyannis Port home after a year-long struggle with brain cancer. He was 77.
Like his martyred older brothers–President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy–Edward Kennedy earned a reputation as a champion of liberal and progressive causes, a defender of the downtrodden, a fierce advocate of civil rights legislation, and a supporter of universal health care for American citizens for more than 40 of his 46 years in the Senate.
His extensive legislative achievements and his determined advocacy for the progressive agenda earned him the nickname: “The Lion of the Senate,” the “Liberal Lion.” Mr. Kennedy was buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to his brothers on Aug. 29.
Mr. Kennedy entered the Senate in a 1962 special election to fill the unexpired term after his brother John entered the White House. He was elected to a full six-year term in 1964 and was reelected seven more times. He served with 10 presidents.
“It leaves a lot of us with a broken heart, particularly that his passing comes in the middle of this chaotic, struggle for health care, his signature issue,” Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) told The Final Call.
“If you happen to be a District of Columbia resident, you will miss Ted Kennedy more than most, and certainly more than all (except) perhaps those who live in Massachusetts. We don’t have any senators, so we’ve got to find people who care enough about us, even given all their responsibilities for their own constituents in their own states, once we get a bill passed in the House, so that we can make hay in the Senate.
“There are only a few such senators. Ted Kennedy was the leader of the band,” Mrs. Norton continued. For example, she said, Mr. Kennedy was the first senator–along with then-Rep. Ronald Dellums (D-Calif.)–to introduce a bill proposing statehood for the District of Columbia, and he continued to reintroduce it year after year.
President Barack Obama, whose own campaign for the White House was buoyed by Sen. Kennedy’s endorsement, placed his benefactor in the political pantheon, saying “virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.”
His advocacy of civil rights legislation was longstanding. In 1965, he sought to ban the poll tax as part of the Voting Rights Act, losing narrowly. From then on, he was in the thick of every civil rights debate, from the fair housing legislation in the ’60s to the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which changed the way this country looked at the disabled and how best to accommodate them.
During the confirmation hearings of Chief Justice John Roberts in September 2005, Mr. Kennedy talked about Hurricane Katrina and how the disaster showed that poverty and racial injustice are still prevalent American society. “The stark and tragic images of human suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have reminded us yet again that civil rights and equal rights are still the great unfinished business of America,” he said.
“The suffering has been disproportionately borne by the weak, the poor, the elderly and the infirm, and largely African Americans, who were forced by poverty, illness and unequal opportunity to stay behind and bear the brunt of the storm’s winds and floods. I believe that kind of disparate impact is morally wrong in this, the richest country in the world.”
The Kennedy family legacy of advocacy on behalf of the poor and less fortunate was a direct result of what all of the children of Joseph and Rose Kennedy were taught as they were growing up in an extremely wealthy family, a family which became a political dynasty. “I think the most important thing for sort of his career really is his upbringing,” Adam Clymer, author of Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography said in an interview on Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!”
“The children were taught that verse from the Book of Luke: to those–‘Of those to whom much has been given, much is expected.’ They got a very strong Catholic upbringing from their mother, and their father said, yes, in essence, ‘You guys have an advantage, have advantages. Do something with them and give something back.’ ”
Sen. Kennedy was also a leading voice in the Senate opposing the invasion of Iraq. He voted against the 2002 resolution allowing President George W. Bush to use force against Iraq, calling it the best vote he cast in the Senate. In a speech in April 2004 at the Brookings Institution, Mr. Kennedy likened Iraq to the war in Vietnam.
“Sadly, this administration has failed to live up to basic standards of open and candid debate. On issue after issue, they tell the American people one thing and do another. They repeatedly invent facts to support their preconceived agenda; facts which administration officials knew or should have known were not true. This pattern has prevailed since President Bush’s earliest days in office. And as a result, this President has now created the largest credibility gap since Richard Nixon. He has broken the basic bond of trust with the American people.
“In recent months, it has become increasingly clear that the Bush administration misled the American people about the threat to the nation posed by the Iraqi regime,” Mr. Kennedy continued. “A year after the war began; Americans are questioning why the administration went to war in Iraq, when Iraq was not an imminent threat, when it had no weapons, no persuasive links to Al-Qaeda, and no connection to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11th, and no stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons.”
Anti-War protestor Cindy Sheehan, the so-called “Peace Mom” who rose to fame several years ago when she protested the Iraq War outside former President Bush’s vacation farm near Crawford, Texas, was ironically on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where Mr. Obama was vacationing, when Sen. Kennedy died.
“I’m on Martha’s Vineyard, and I’m here to protest Barack Obama’s foreign policy mistakes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and spreading into Pakistan of the Bush administration,” Ms. Sheehan told The Final Call. “I have visited pretty extensively with Sen. Kennedy in his Washington, D.C. office and I know he was 100 percent in solidarity with my message of peace and so I just find it serendipitous that I am in Massachusetts in this area when he passed away.
“I am still working for peace and I want the troops to come home from all over the world. I want to reduce our military industrial complex.” Activists, she said must take the fate of their issues into their own hands, and not wait or depend on politicians to bring about the change they seek.
“The only way we’re going to have a say is if we have a mass movement that’s willing to do militant resistance,” Ms. Sheehan continued, “and not just march around in circles in Washington, D.C. on a Saturday, when the ruling class isn’t even there. Unless we become organized and larger and more militant, I don’t think we will have an effect.”
Kennedy and Farrakhan – One on One Interview (George Magazine / FCN, 07-31-1996)