Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Last Brother

It can be said without hyperbole that Ted Kennedy was the most powerful senator in U. S. History, and one of the most controversial.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Ted Kennedy did more for ordinary Americans than either of his brothers. It was Ted who stood up for the Forgotten Man, and it predated his entry into politics. At his brother Jack’s birthday in 1946, 14 year old Ted proposed a toast not to Jack, but to the memory of Joe Kennedy, Jr., the brother who was killed in World War II.

Whatever his flaws, and there were many, peaking with the indefensible events at Chappaquiddick, his accomplishments as Senator were formidable and will live on after him. Kennedy was the spearhead behind the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the National Cancer Act of 1971, the Federal Election Campaign Act Amendments of 1974, the COBRA Act of 1985, the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Ryan White AIDS Care Act in 1990, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the Mental Health Parity Act in 1996 and 2008, the State Children's Health Insurance Program in 1997, the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, and the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009 (one of the few times he allowed his name to headline legislation).

But what would have been his greatest accomplishment, Universal Health Care, has yet to pass. Kennedy’s interest in health care goes back to 1964, when his back was broken in an airplane crash. During his 6 month recovery, he spoke with a friend who suffered from long term tuberculosis, and learned of his friend’s struggles to cope with the financial aspects of health care. In 1969, Kennedy first proposed Universal Health Care. The fact that it was not to come to fruition during his life time is one of the cruel ironies of history, where the architect does not live to see the final structure. Lincoln did not live to see Reconstruction; FDR died four weeks before victory in Europe; JFK was murdered before he could pass the Civil Rights Act. Going further back, Moses led his people to the Promised Land, but was not permitted to enter it.

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