Edward M. Kennedy: 1932-2009

By Greg Zeman

“The Dream Will Never Die”

The Democratic party’s “liberal lion” Senator Edward M. Kennedy, 77, has died from complications related to a malignant brain tumor. The senator was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2008 and suffered a seizure shortly after the inauguration of President Barrack Obama. He was the last of the iconic Kennedy brothers who dominated American politics in the 1960’s.

Kennedy’s career in the U.S Senate spanned 47 turbulent years which saw ten different presidents including his brother John F. Kennedy. Sen. Kennedy’s impassioned support of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which faced a 57 day filibuster on the Senate floor, was instrumental in its passing.

Throughout his career, Kennedy was a stalwart defender of American liberalism, always embracing it openly, even when others in his party attempted to distance themselves from it.

Kennedy was the last living son of an American political dynasty as plagued by tragedy as it was rife with triumph. He saw the assassination of two of his brothers and the death of all but one of his siblings in his lifetime.

Kennedy was aware of the weight that rested on his shoulders as a living link to the idealized “Camelot” image of his brother’s presidency.

“I think about my brothers everyday,” Kennedy told Reuters. “They set high standards. Sometimes you measure up. Sometimes you don’t.”

Kennedy was haunted by personal tragedy and scandal for much of his career. His involvement in the accidental death of Mary Jo Kopechne, a former Robert Kennedy campaign staffer who died after Kennedy drove his car off of a bridge, prevented him from challenging Richard Nixon in the 1972 Presidential election.

Kennedy was a powerful orator, known for bombastic speeches like the one he made at the judicial confirmation hearing for Ronald Regan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. The “Bork’s America” speech is widely credited for terminating Bork’s chances of being confirmed.

Although known for his partisan tenacity, Kennedy was instrumental in many bipartisan efforts, and his ability to make friends across the aisle made him a effective legislator. His friendship with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch led to the passage of several important pieces of legislation including the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It is the optimistic humility of Kennedy’s concession speech to Jimmy Carter at the 1980 Democratic Convention that has come to define the senator’s lifelong commitment to public service and social justice.

“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

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