Editorials from Around USA Take the Measure of a Kennedy

By: E&P Staff A collection of editorials from around the U.S. on the passing of Sen. Edward Kennedy, as edited by McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

The following editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star on Thursday, Aug. 27:


There's a simple and appropriate way to honor Ted Kennedy.

After 46 years as a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, Kennedy died Tuesday as federal legislation on his greatest passion - universal health care - is struggling in Congress.

Congress, in the spirit of bipartisanship for which Kennedy was known, needs now to pass health care reform.

His greatest strength as a legislator was his ability to reach across the aisle, to compromise and get important work done. This quality is sorely lacking today in Washington, which is mired in partisanship.

Kennedy represented an increasingly, and sadly, rare Washington collegiality and practicality. With former Republican Sen. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, he sponsored the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, said Wednesday of Kennedy, "Despite our political differences, he was professional, courteous and thoughtful, and always looked for ways to find common ground."

Through the years, health care had been Kennedy's great mission. From helping establish the national community health system in 1966, to programs helping children, seniors and those living with HIV/AIDS, Kennedy returned again and again to the idea that health care is a right, not a luxury.

Even his political enemies, those who used him as a liberal boogeyman and focused on the tragedy of Chappaquiddick, will miss him. Was there a better foil for conservatives these last several decades?

The hope among those who appreciate him, though, must be to push forward on legislation he had hoped would be his legacy. There is no more fitting tribute to Kennedy than passing universal health care.

The following editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday, Aug. 27:


Madison Square Garden was stiflingly hot on the night of Aug. 12, 1980. The long Democratic presidential primary campaign had ended bitterly, with President Jimmy Carter beating back a surprisingly inept challenge by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. The only drama remaining for the divided and disgruntled delegations to the party's national convention was seeing how Kennedy would react.

He spoke for 34 minutes, mentioning Carter's name only in the 32nd minute. The rest of his speech was a ringing restatement of liberal ideas as the core of Democratic Party principles and utter disdain of what Republicans and their newly chosen nominee, Ronald Reagan of California, stood for.

It was a masterpiece of political rhetoric, the finest speech Ted Kennedy ever gave, best remembered for its stirring final line: "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."

It was Kennedyism at its best and at its worst: inspirational and eloquent, but vindictive and self-absorbed. It did nothing to help Carter's chances against Reagan that fall. The way it turned out, probably nothing could have.

On that night, Edward M. Kennedy abandoned presidential politics and gave the rest of his life to the larger mission of advancing liberal goals. The dynasty that bullets and bad judgment denied gave way to a larger cause. With his death late Tuesday night at age 77, progressivism lost its greatest champion since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

He was the youngest of Joe and Rose Kennedy's nine children, never a part of the old man's grand plans, the jock who was kicked out of Harvard for cheating and who scored a touchdown against Yale after being readmitted.

During Jack's 1960 presidential campaign, his father sent him to coordinate the Democrat-poor Western states, after which he was handed Jack's Senate seat as soon he reached 30. No one expected much of him, and he lived up to those expectations, even after Jack and Bobby were killed. His actions at Chappaquiddick in 1969 were reprehensible. His boozing and carousing during the 1970s and 1980s were typical of a frat boy, not a statesman.

In his work, he was building a reputation as a man of the Senate, like Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, but his private life was a mess. It might be argued that he didn't become a full-fledged adult until 1992, at age 60, with his second marriage.

But his legislative legacy is enormous, largely because of his ability to attract a staff that was the envy of his colleagues and his willingness to make strategic deals with Republicans. He'd become interested in health care issues while recovering from injuries suffered in a plane crash in 1964; his illness and death, just as his long crusade on behalf of health insurance reform may be nearing completion, are particularly tragic.

Ted Kennedy's name is on more than 300 significant pieces of legislation, all of which have promoted the cause of which he spoke in 1980. Voting rights, women's rights, AIDS research, apartheid, the minimum wage, mental health parity, immigration reform, education reform " name a progressive achievement in the last 40 years, and his fingerprints are all over it.

There are Kennedy sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, but Edward Moore Kennedy's death ends a remarkable era in American politics. But the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

The following editorial appeared in the Sacramento Bee on Thursday, Aug. 27:


Best known for his galvanizing words in times of tragedy and at national political conventions, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (1932-2009) will be remembered as one of the most effective U.S. senators in history.

Though his brothers John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy also served in the Senate, Edward Kennedy served nearly a half-century. During the terms of 10 presidents, he delivered on key civil rights, health care, immigration, education and other legislation that defined an era.

Although he was often seen by friend and foe alike as a diehard liberal, Kennedy actually worked across party lines to collaborate with Republicans on most of the major legislation he shepherded through the Senate.

First elected in 1962, Kennedy really came into his own in 1965. His first major role was in the passage of the Voting Rights Act - and he's led the passage of virtually every major piece of civil rights legislation since.

That year, Kennedy was the moving force behind the major immigration overhaul that eliminated the "national origins" system that favored immigrants from northern Europe - and he's led every major immigration reform effort since.

Kennedy in 1965 also championed the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which created a federal/state partnership and funding for the neediest students and schools. With his leadership, it has been reauthorized eight times.

Kennedy first called for health insurance for all Americans in 1969. Three decades later, he led a successful bipartisan effort to enact the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which brought health care to children of working parents who don't get insurance coverage through their employers.

Through his long tenure in the Senate, Kennedy never lost sight of the fact that idealism and commitment are no substitute for getting things done. He leaves an imprint on American society with his record of legislation and his ability to reach out to countless individuals and make a difference in their lives.

The following editorial appeared in the Seattle Times on Thursday, Aug. 27:


Sen. Edward M. Kennedy burnished a famous family's legacy of public service and great expectations with a distinguished career in the U.S. Senate. His life in politics did not lead to the White House, as once assumed, but to a place in history as a respected, effective legislator.

Kennedy's death at age 77 from an aggressive form of brain cancer is an abrupt end of service to Massachusetts that began in 1962.

The Kennedy family record is one of extraordinary achievement, public tragedies and a burden of expectations that fell to survivors in successive generations.

The late senator had two martyred brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy, murdered as he campaigned for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. His oldest brother was killed in World War II. The youngest son of Rose and Joseph Kennedy became the head of a clan that suffered untimely deaths from illness and accidents. Personal scandals kept the family in the headlines.

Kennedy's story was much more than a tale of personal wealth and opportunity. A lot of people have both and do not accomplish nearly as much. He was a champion of the poor and middle class, through legislation that spanned civil rights to student loans, special education, health care and the minimum wage.

For decades he was a favorite target of right-wing flamethrowers. Their loathing for "Teddy" was fired by an abiding belief his family name spared him accountability for a fatal automobile accident in 1969 at Chappaquiddick. His liberal politics drew more heat as Congress and the White House turned Republican.

Kennedy's liberalism never diminished, but over time his legislative skills were recognized and valued by both parties. He was partisan to be sure, but always more practical than doctrinaire. Even as Massachusetts voters began to elect Republican governors in 1990, they returned him to office. He quietly thrived as the White House and eventually both houses of Congress came under GOP control.

Kennedy's public and private lives provided dozens of excuses to withdraw, retreat or quit, yet he persevered. He provided a sheltering harbor for his extended family through life's storms and tragedies.

Students of U.S. government will know his name for decades. Democracy is never on automatic pilot. Kennedy understood the Senate and was quietly at the helm.

The following editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday, Aug. 27:


The passing of Sen. Edward Moore "Teddy" Kennedy has silenced the greatest liberal voice of the past 50 years and drawn the curtain on an epic generation of a political dynasty.

Kennedy, 77, who died Tuesday night from brain cancer, was the third-longest-serving senator in the nation's history. Although his liberalism was legendary, this Democrat's true effectiveness was in his ability to compromise with Republicans to get his initiatives enacted into law.

He never quite matched the public's adoration for his older brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, whose lives were cut short by assassins' bullets. But Ted Kennedy's legislative achievements far surpassed the impact of his brothers in the lives of ordinary citizens.

In 47 years in the Senate, Kennedy passed more than 300 laws. Among them are the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which made public places more accessible to the disabled, and the State Children's Health Insurance Program of 1997, which funded the largest expansion of health insurance coverage for children since the 1960s. The COBRA Act of 1985, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, gave workers the ability to continue health insurance after leaving employment. And Title IX opened up college sports to young women.

He was a lifelong ally of organized labor and a relentless advocate for increasing the minimum wage. Kennedy also was a champion of education; in 2002 he worked with President George W. Bush to enact the No Child Left Behind law.

Earlier this year, he teamed with President Obama to enact a law to encourage more national service. When he died, he was still pushing for his longtime goal of universal health care. Yesterday, Obama called Kennedy "the greatest United States senator of our time."

Kennedy was born into a family that expected and demanded greatness. Father Joe Kennedy planned for one of his sons to become the nation's first Irish Catholic president; John Kennedy realized that dream in 1961. When JFK was assassinated in 1963, the torch passed to brother Bobby. When RFK, in turn, was cut down in 1968 as he was about to win the Democratic nomination for president, Ted stepped into the spotlight. A generation of Kennedy admirers will always remember his eulogy for his brother in a trembling voice, honoring a man "who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."

But Ted Kennedy never matched his brothers' presidential aspirations. The explanation was found primarily in his undeniable flaws.

Throughout his life, there were times when it seemed the only thing that could stop Ted Kennedy's achievements was Kennedy himself. A cheating scandal got him expelled from Harvard College. A long night of drinking in Palm Beach in 1991 ended with rape allegations against a nephew, who was ultimately acquitted. The scandal hampered the senator's effectiveness in Congress for years afterward.

But the reckless act that dogged Kennedy his entire career took place at Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard, in 1969. After a party, the married Kennedy drove off a short wooden bridge with a young woman passenger in the car. The car sank into the inlet below and the woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, a Pennsylvania native, drowned. Kennedy swam to safety but did not notify authorities until after her body was discovered the next day.

Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended sentence. He won reelection to the Senate from Massachusetts the following year, but Chappaquiddick ended his presidential hopes until 1980, when he lost to President Carter in the Democratic primary.

Despite such self-inflicted scandals, Kennedy always rededicated himself to work harder in the Senate, renewing his focus on improving conditions for average Americans. Accomplishments such as the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, which forced insurers to treat the mentally ill more fairly, and the Ryan White Care Act, which enabled low-income AIDS patients to receive better treatment, are part of his compassionate legacy.

Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in July, but Kennedy was too ill to attend the ceremony. In recent months, his illness kept him from his duties in the Senate, where his voice had boomed on behalf of the disadvantaged for nearly half a century.

For millions of Americans, Ted Kennedy made this country a fairer and better place to live. His leadership will be missed.

The following editorial appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Thursday, Aug. 27:


Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, born of privilege, devoted his congressional career to serving the needs of those without it.

The Massachusetts Democrat's beliefs were unabashedly progressive, unshaken by the political currents in and outside of Congress and unaffected by a movement that sought to turn the term "liberal" into an epithet.

Certainly, having a safe seat allowed him to thunder at will, but Kennedy bore the label proudly and served his beliefs - and the country - faithfully and effectively over a nearly 47-year Senate career.

These beliefs, combined with political acumen and an ability to work across the aisle in defiance of the caricatures foisted on him, put him at the center of many of the country's landmark initiatives.

He died Tuesday evening at age 77, with one of his signature issues hanging in the balance. While others were content to put health care reform on the back burner, Kennedy never was.

Even at death's door, he was aware that the needs of the sick, the suffering, the uninsured, underinsured and malinsured could not wait. His recent request that Massachusetts change its law to allow its Democratic governor to appoint a successor - instead of having a special election - undoubtedly reflected his desire to ensure a full 60 votes in the Senate for meaningful health care reform.

Our hope is that this last accomplishment - health care reform - is not denied him. But the nation has been served ably by his other legislative achievements. These include providing health insurance for children of the working poor, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, Meals on Wheels, family leave and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He was active on civil rights and was a steadfast foe of war, including Vietnam and the Iraq war.

Tragedies, some self-inflicted, plagued him. He lost one brother to war and two brothers to assassinations that also rocked the nation.

No doubt, many will think of Kennedy and one word - Chappaquiddick, not Camelot - will come to mind. It was in a pond on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969 where Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, died in a car driven by Kennedy. He never was able to adequately explain why he left the scene and failed to report the accident until hours later. He developed a reputation as a womanizer and a heavy drinker.

A 1980 run for president faltered. Yet he undeniably became a statesman, an icon in his own party and respected by the statesmen in the other.

His accomplishments were as real as his shortcomings. The country is a more humane, selfless place for having had Ted Kennedy in it.

What are your remembrances of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy? To be considered for publication as a letter to the editor, e-mail your opinion to the Journal Sentinel editorial department.


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