By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 27, 2009
The death of Edward Moore Kennedy, scion of a privileged, charismatic and often tragic family, has closed a historic epoch in the United States and opened a void in the political spectrum.
As flags were lowered to half-staff over the U.S. Capitol, where the Massachusetts Democrat served 46 years as a senator, devoted supporters, political opponents and leaders from around the world mourned his death, which came late Tuesday. President Obama, whose White House campaign 18 months ago was lifted by Sen. Kennedy's endorsement, placed his benefactor in the political pantheon, saying that "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."
The essence of Sen. Kennedy's political power was crystallized by Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, one of many Republicans who worked with the late senator to forge compromises on bills. Alexander called Sen. Kennedy "at once the most partisan and the most constructive United States senator. He could preach the party line as well as bridge differences better than any Democrat."
Sen. Kennedy's vast liberal legislative record was his own, but his legacy was his family's: a lineage of power, triumph and adversity that produced a president but saw his three elder brothers die in service to their country, two by assassins' bullets.
Sen. Kennedy, who died at 77 from brain cancer at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., will be buried Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery, close to the grave sites of his slain brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.). The private burial that evening will conclude a three-day memorial that will begin in Massachusetts on Cape Cod.
Sen. Kennedy's sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, died two weeks ago, also in Hyannis Port. One sibling, former U.S. ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith, survives.
As heir, through tragedy, to his accomplished brothers, Edward Kennedy became the patriarch of his clan and a towering figure in the U.S. Senate to a degree that neither John nor Robert Kennedy had achieved.
He served in the Senate through five of the most dramatic decades in the nation's history, becoming a lawmaker whose achievements, authority and collegiality invited comparisons to Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and other titans. But he was also beset by personal frailties and family misfortunes that became the stuff of tabloid headlines.
For years, many Democrats considered Sen. Kennedy's presidency a virtual inevitability. In 1968, a "Draft Ted" campaign emerged only a few months after Robert Kennedy's death, but Sen. Kennedy demurred, realizing that he was not prepared. His future prospects were diminished one night in 1969, when his car went off a bridge and a young woman drowned.
His reputation besmirched, he failed in his 1980 primary challenge to President Jimmy Carter. But for its rhetoric and drama, his exit from the presidential stage was a high point in U.S. politics. At the Democratic convention that year, he invoked his brothers and asserted: "The cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."A Path Unlike His Brothers'
Instead of president, Edward Kennedy became a major presence in the Senate, to which he was elected largely on the basis of his name in 1962 and where he wore proudly the label of liberal.
For decades, Sen. Kennedy helped to shape the national debate. Defending the poor and politically disadvantaged, he staked out his party's positions on health care, education, civil rights, campaign finance reform and labor law. He also came to oppose the war in Vietnam, and, from the beginning, was an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq.
Leaders on nearly every continent noted Sen. Kennedy's impact on resolving political conflicts over race, religion and sect, whether in Northern Ireland or in South Africa under apartheid. He pushed for economic sanctions against South Africa's all-white regime and joined protests outside the prison that held Nelson Mandela. He "made his voice heard in the struggle against apartheid at a time when the freedom struggle was not widely supported in the West," the Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a statement yesterday.
Congressional scholar Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, described Edward Kennedy's mark on the Senate as "an amazing and endurable presence. You want to go back to the 19th century to find parallels, but you won't find parallels. It was the completeness of his involvement in the work of the Senate that explains his career."
Opponents caricatured him as a symbol of liberal excess. Yet he was perhaps the most popular of senators, with many friends across the aisle. Through compromise, he could attract their votes.
He collaborated with a Republican president, George W. Bush, on education reform; with a Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), on immigration reform; and with an arch-conservative senator, J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, on major crime legislation. Only Thurmond, who died in 2003 at age 100, and Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) served longer than Sen. Kennedy.
"We have passed so much legislation together," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-Utah) whose friendship with Sen. Kennedy went back decades.Champion of Health Care
Sen. Kennedy called health care "the cause of my life." His measures gave access to care for millions and funded treatment around the world. He was a longtime advocate for universal health care and promoted biomedical research, as well as AIDS research and treatment. He championed the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and the 1996 Kennedy-Kassebaum bill -- with Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.) -- which allowed employees to keep health insurance after leaving their job.
"Do we really care about our fellow citizens?" he asked countless times, in one form or another, during his long Senate career. He faced opposition from most Republicans -- and more than a few Democrats -- who said his proposals for universal health care amounted to socialized medicine that would lead to bureaucratic sclerosis and budget-breaking costs and inefficiencies.
Only weeks after his brain tumor was diagnosed in May 2008, he rose from his hospital bed to vote for legislation blocking deep cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. Several Republicans were so moved that they switched votes, assuring passage.
Cancer had touched his family before. His son Edward Kennedy Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer at age 12 in 1973. His daughter, Kara Anne Kennedy, had lung cancer diagnosed in 2003.
Beyond health care, the list of major laws bearing his imprint fills pages. In 1965, he led the Senate in passing the most significant immigration reform in decades. The Hart-Celler Act abolished old quotas and lifted a ban on immigration from Asia.
As the Senate's leading voice on civil rights, he worked for the 1982 Voting Rights Act extension and extension of workplace protections to women and the disabled.
He resisted Republican efforts in the 1980s to roll back programs he had championed, and even in the minority, he sought a greater government role in gaining health care for children, loans to college students and civil rights for the disabled, among other initiatives.Triumphs and Tragedies
Known as Teddy, the youngest son in a powerful family, he was first elected to the Senate at age 30. His oldest brother, Joseph, who was probably headed for a political career, died in World War II. Brothers John and Robert were killed in their 40s.
In creating a career of achievement, Sen. Kennedy was required to deal with these family tragedies, with the expectations imposed on him and with an early reputation as a vacuous young man of privilege.
Edward Moore Kennedy was born in Brookline, Mass., on Feb. 22, 1932, the ninth and last child of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. A grandfather, John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, was a mayor of Boston. His other grandfather, Patrick J. Kennedy, served in the Massachusetts legislature.
His father made millions in real estate, banking, movies and on Wall Street, as well as in liquor during Prohibition. His mother, a devout Roman Catholic, was exposed to politics early, campaigning as a young girl with her father, the mayor. From his mother, Sen. Kennedy learned the core values of the family's Catholic faith; from his father, he learned to compete. "We don't want any losers around here," Joe Kennedy would say. "In this family, we want winners."
After asking a friend to take a Spanish examination for him, he was expelled from Harvard. Following Army service in Europe, he returned, playing football and receiving a history and government degree in 1956. He had a law degree from the University of Virginia.
In 1958, he managed John F. Kennedy's Senate reelection campaign. In 1960, he coordinated his brother's presidential primary campaign in 13 Western states.
Three weeks after turning 30, Edward Kennedy announced his candidacy for his brother's former Senate seat. In the primary, he faced Edward J. McCormack Jr., the state attorney general. McCormack suggested that his candidacy would have been laughable if he had been merely "Edward Moore," rather than "Edward Moore Kennedy." He won the nomination handily, defeated Republican George Cabot Lodge and took office in January 1963.
John Kennedy's assassination in November 1963 helped make his youngest brother's reelection almost inevitable, despite his relatively sparse Senate record, but Sen. Kennedy almost lost his life in the process. As he flew to Springfield, Mass., to accept the nomination from his party's convention, his plane crashed. The pilot and a Kennedy aide died, and Sen. Kennedy was severely injured. Despite long months lying on his back, he won the general election by more than a million votes.A Leading Voice Against War
Learning in 1966 of the difficulties faced by low-income residents in getting medical care, he quickly won funds for community health centers. By 1995, there were more than 800 centers serving about 9 million people.
As a brother of a president on the front lines of the Cold War, he initially expressed "no reservations" about the American military commitment in Southeast Asia. That support began to wane after visits to Vietnam and as U.S. involvement escalated. He ultimately came to believe the war a "monstrous outrage."
On June 5, 1968, only weeks after his brother Robert Kennedy, an antiwar leader, was assassinated only weeks after announcing a primary challenge to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Sen. Kennedy temporarily withdrew from public life. He delivered the eulogy for his brother, then went sailing for weeks, often alone.
Resuming public life, he made ending the war his top priority, making scores of antiwar speeches and condemning President Richard M. Nixon's "Vietnamization" strategy as "war and more war."
In 1969, Sen. Kennedy wrested the post of Senate majority whip from Russell B. Long, a powerful Senate veteran from Louisiana, to become at 36 the Senate's youngest majority whip. He lost the post to Byrd in 1971, in part because of preoccupation with the scandal two years earlier that claimed the life of a young woman and changed forever the arc of his political career.
On July 18, 1969, Sen. Kennedy attended a small get-together of friends and former Robert Kennedy campaign workers on Chappaquiddick, an island off Martha's Vineyard. Late that night, his car ran off a narrow bridge and plunged into a tidal pool. His passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, one of the campaign workers, drowned.
Sen. Kennedy, who failed to report the incident for about nine hours, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene of an accident. He received a two-month suspended sentence and lost his driver's license for a year.
In a televised speech six days after Kopechne's death, he said that he had been overcome by such emotions as "fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion and shock." But speculation endured for years, altering his political fate.
His speech to the 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York's Madison Square Garden suggested what might have been. In powerful, ringing tones, his "dream shall never die" speech called on the party to recommit itself to traditional Democratic values.
He congratulated Carter and then concluded his speech with the passion and defiance that had become vintage Kennedy: "For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. 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."
Delegates leapt to their feet. Their uproarious demonstration lasted more than a half-hour.Addressing Personal Problems
Turning back to the work of the Senate, in 1987 he led opposition to the nomination of Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court. "In Robert Bork's America," Sen. Kennedy said, "there is no room at the inn for blacks and no place in the Constitution for women. And, in our America, there should be no seat on the Supreme Court for Robert Bork."
The senator and his first wife, Joan Bennett Kennedy, who struggled with alcoholism for many years, divorced in 1982 after 24 years of marriage. Although dogged by tales of misbehavior, he conscientiously carried out his role of patriarch: a father to his children and a surrogate father to a score of nieces and nephews.
In a 1991 speech at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Sen. Kennedy spoke of the problems of his personal life. "I recognize my own shortcomings," he said. "I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them."'This Is What We Do'
Sen. Kennedy seemed to regain his footing, personally and politically, after his marriage in 1992 to Victoria Anne Reggie, a lawyer from a Louisiana political family. She survives, along with three children from his first marriage, Kara Anne Kennedy, Edward M. Kennedy Jr. and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.); two stepchildren; and four grandchildren.
In 1994, Sen. Kennedy defeated a challenge by Republican businessman Mitt Romney and never faced another serious battle for his Senate seat.
Although his party lost the White House six years later, Sen. Kennedy remained in the thick of the legislative action, in 2001 helping to pass President Bush's No Child Left Behind bill, and rescuing it again six years later when it was up for renewal.
On most other issues, notably Iraq, Sen. Kennedy bitterly opposed the Bush administration. He once said his proudest Senate vote was cast in 2002 rejecting force against Iraq. "There was no imminent threat," he said later.
In January 2008, he endorsed the presidential candidacy of another early opponent of the war, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), calling for "a new generation of leadership" in America.
Three months later, he left his hospital bed and flew to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Slowly making his way to the lectern to the cheers, and tears, of 20,000 rapturous fellow Democrats, he proclaimed, in a voice still strong, "a season of hope."
Delegates of a certain age heard echoes of his brother's 1961 inaugural address and of his own impassioned speech at Madison Square Garden nearly three decades earlier.
"This is what we do," he proclaimed. "We reach the moon. We scale the heights."