Over the past weeks I have thought a lot about Senator Ted Kennedy. That should not be a surprise as it was his senate seat that was up for a special election Tuesday. On top of that Kennedy was a political hero of mine. While Scott Brown and Martha Coakley were slashing with heated rhetoric in Massachusetts, I was thinking about the Kennedy family and all that they gave to this nation. It still seems unreal that the ‘Lion of the Senate’ is not gearing up for battle as the health care bill comes down to the final wire. Lord knows the nation needs him now. Even folks like his political opponent and long-time friend, Senator Hatch, has acknowledged that things would have been smoother in the Senate had Kennedy been there to grind heads together. The brain cancer that took Kennedy’s life right when the nation needed him most seems like a Greek tragedy. It still makes me very sad, and leaves me thinking about the timing of events, and how things might have been different.
It seems even more unbelievable that a Republican would be elected to the Senate seat that President Jack Kennedy once held. Ted Kennedy would hold that seat for 46 years starting in 1962, and win nine elections. While I am sure that Kennedy would have enjoyed the political theatre of what has taken place these past weeks, I also know that he would be dismayed that the national hope for health care is now in jeopardy based on a sluggish and sloppy campaign.
Ted Kennedy never ran weak races, but was always fully engaged and welcomed the contest that was brewing. He knew how to meet and greet the voters, shaking hands, and making contacts that paid off on election day. He was rich and from a well-known family, but Kennedy knew how to mingle and talk with the average voter.
In 1962 when Ted first ran for the senate he was confronted with a charge by his primary opponent, Edward McCormack, that he was not one of the common folks who had to trudge off to work every day. After the charge had been leveled there was concern in the Kennedy camp until the next day when the average citizens on the street swept away any concerns. The story goes that a man with an outstretched hand told Ted, ” They say you haven’t worked a day in your life. Lemme me tell you. You haven’t missed a thing.” It was Kennedy’s ability to meet the issues of the day be they national matters or campaign related ones head-on that made him the national politician so many loved. He knew how to fight in the trenches for a victory be they at the ballot box, or on the Senate floor.
Tonight the goal of health care reform that Ted Kennedy worked decades for is in limbo. The tireless efforts Kennedy gave for all of us must not be lost due to a lousy Democratic candidate named Martha Coakley. We have come too far, and endured too much not to see this health care battle concluded with a victory.
Teddy would be sad about tonight’s election results. But than tomorrow morning he would get up, and set his mind on working with the conditions that existed, and start the fight anew. He lived his life that way every day, right up to the end.
And so must we. The words of Ted Kennedy still lead us in our common purpose.
For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.