Back when I was a teenager in Orlando in 1960, I did volunteer work for John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign—I addressed and stuffed a lot of envelopes at Orange County’s Democratic headquarters.
I was thrilled to watch the presidential debates on black-and-white television, and even more thrilled when “my” candidate became the new president of the United States.
Since then, my memories of JFK and his extended family hang like a string of beads that connects places from one end of the United States to another—from Boston to Washington, D.C., Dallas, Los Angeles, Chappaquiddick, New York City, Martha’s Vineyard, Hyannisport.
With Senator Edward Kennedy’s death, it seems those beads have come full circle.
I find it especially interesting to hear what some of Sen. Kennedy’s Republican counterparts—and often, his legislative opponents—are saying about him now:
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona): "My friend, Ted Kennedy, was famous before he was accomplished. But by the end of his life he had become irreplaceable in the institution he loved and in the affections of its members. He grew up in the long shadow of his brothers, but found a way to be useful to his country in ways that will outlast their accomplishments."
Nancy Reagan, former first lady: "Given our political differences, people are sometimes surprised by how close Ronnie and I have been to the Kennedy family. In recent years, Ted and I found our common ground in stem cell research, and I considered him an ally and a dear friend. I will miss him."
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah): "Today America lost a great elder statesman, a committed public servant, and leader of the Senate. And today I lost a treasured friend. Ted Kennedy was an iconic, larger than life United States senator whose influence cannot be overstated. Many have come before, and many will come after, but Ted Kennedy's name will always be remembered as someone who lived and breathed the United States Senate and the work completed within its chamber."
Former President George H.W. Bush: “Barbara and I were deeply saddened to learn Ted Kennedy lost his valiant battle with cancer. While we didn't see eye-to-eye on many political issues through the years, I always respected his steadfast public service—so much so, in fact, that I invited him to my library in 2003 to receive the Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service. Ted Kennedy was a seminal figure in the United States Senate—a leader who answered the call to duty for some 47 years, and whose death closes a remarkable chapter in that body's history.”
Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts: "The last son of Rose Fitzgerald and Joseph Kennedy was granted a much longer life than his brothers, and he filled those years with endeavor and achievement that would have made them proud. In 1994, I joined the long list of those who ran against Ted and came up short. But he was the kind of man you could like even if he was your adversary. I came to admire Ted enormously for his charm and sense of humor—qualities all the more impressive in a man who had known so much loss and sorrow. I will always remember his great personal kindness, and the fighting spirit he brought to every cause he served and every challenge he faced."
In this day and age where rabid name-calling and untruthful appeals to base emotions seem to have replaced rational political debate, nothing would be a more fitting memorial for Ted Kennedy than if Republicans and Democrats could join together to make sure that every citizen of our country has access to health care as a right, not a privilege.
I wonder if everyone who is bad-mouthing government involvement in health care at town meetings is going to decline Medicare and Social Security when they turn 65. If government involvement in our lives is so bad, I wonder why they aren’t demonstrating just as loudly against the wildly successful “cash for clunkers” program that has proved to be a boon for the automobile business. I wonder if they will send back those diplomas they earned in public high schools, colleges, and universities.
In short—If other countries can offer all their citizens health care, why can’t we? What are we afraid of? And what could be more important for the long-term health of our union?
Tonight, my fervent hope is that some of Teddy Kennedy’s spirit of public service will rub off on the Romneys, McCains, Bushes, and Hatches of the world, who will then stand up and do what is right for the country—not just what some pundits think is right for their political party.
If you think universal health care is a good idea, it’s time to take pen (or computer) or telephone in hand, and let your Senators and Representatives know how you feel.
Do it for your family.
And do it for Senator Edward Kennedy, the Lion of the Senate, who is sleeping tonight.