America Mourns the Passing of Progressive Senator and Activist

Angela Eklund

One of the most celebrated photographs in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library depicts the Kennedy brothers at the White House a year after Senator Edward Kennedy took office in 1962. President Kennedy to his left and Attorney General Robert Kennedy to his right, Ted took this photograph with a confident smile, a comforting gesture that would reappear in times of triumph as well as ordeal. Although venerated for his arduous efforts to expand access to proper health care and for his patience in education development, Kennedy passed too early to witness the fruits of his labor. Last Tuesday, this esteemed politician succumbed to the late stages of what began as a dismal cancer diagnosis, leaving behind much more than the dozens of signatures scrawled in support of a changing America.

Former senator Ted Kennedy
Former senator Ted Kennedy

His death has come at a time when legislators are just beginning to facilitate change based on his industrious attempts at reform. There is still work to be done, despite his success in improving the rights of America’s women, minorities, gays, immigrants and the disabled during his long years of service. Education has yet to experience the growth that budding countries like China have already made possible, and a universal health care plan has stalled in Congress while legislators avoid producing yet another failed attempt that would most likely send America’s future generations plummeting deeper into debt. However, he is survived by the capable man whom he endorsed during the 2008 presidential election, to secure that his voice would not have been in vain.

The championed President Barack Obama now stands in the wake of America’s loss, informing citizens that Kennedy’s, “ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives…in seniors who know new dignity, in families that know new opportunity, in children who know education’s promise, and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just…including myself.”  Senator Kennedy’s impact on public policy will continue to resonate in the hallowed halls of Congress as those he has influenced take up his role as the maverick of America.

Kennedy’s voice still sets the precedent and declares priority in Washington, where his written request for the filling of his empty seat echoes his most valued concern. The controversial health care legislation requires every Democratic signature it can get, and Governor Deval Patrick understands the importance of gaining that support by appointing a transitory replacement for the Massachusetts Senate seat until a special election for Senator Kennedy’s successor may take place.

According to the New York Times, Gov. Patrick referred to Kennedy’s letter as, “A particularly timely request at a time when there are such profoundly important issues pending in the Congress.” Senator Kennedy used all the time he had left struggling to push this legislation into action, as new treatments for his failing health proved useless.

However, many Democrats are determined to see that what the senator referred to constantly as “the cause of my life” comes true, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who claims, “Ted Kennedy’s dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration.” Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, told USA Today of the specific work that he and Kennedy accomplished during their leadership on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, also known as HELP. Hatch says, “We worked on health legislation that changed the fabric of personal health care…legislation such as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which has provided health insurance to hundreds of thousands of children of the working poor.“ Hatch could be one of the few Republicans to support the new health care bill, revealing Senator Kennedy’s unique ability to convince even those who disagreed with his ideals to vigorously pursue the noble causes that defined his life mission.

Now that the last of the Kennedy family to leave behind a legacy of great achievement in the name of his country is laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, Ted has taken his place once again beside his brothers. But the question remains, who will take his place in the Senate, and will he or she carry out his dying wish for a universal health care plan?

As citizens we can only hope that the new appointment will have big enough footprints to fill the shoes of a Kennedy.