EDWARD M. KENNEDY 1932-2009
End of an American Epoch
Kennedy to Be Buried Near Brothers at Arlington Cemetery
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.