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Chris Ford: RIP Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy 1932-2009

Contributor:
Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Finally, the last of the Kennedy brothers, Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy has died at the age of 77.

While his death has not been unexpected, due to his having a cancerous brain tumour he, out of all the Kennedy brothers (Joe Junior, John and Robert) lived into old age but not without gathering significant political scars along the way.

Despite all that Ted Kennedy, the son of a millionaire and the living scion of a political dynasty, shepherded through the most progressive social legislation seen in America since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt's 'New Deal'. Following on from the legacy of his brothers, Kennedy (whose family would be regarded within the New Zealand political context as right wing social democrats but in the politics of mainstream America, they are derided as left-wing 'liberals') expanded educational opportunities, health care provision, worker's rights and public housing programmes as far as the US Congress and the liberal free market system would permit him to do so.

Also Kennedy was one of the key drivers of civil rights legislation and in the early 1990s championed the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (and this was a personal mission given that many within the Kennedy clan lived with disability as a part of their daily lives). The early eulogies are recalling as well his significant victory in winning a public holiday to honour the slain civil rights leader, Dr Martin Luther King, in the mid-1980s.

Within the international sphere, Kennedy played a behind-the-scenes role in facilitating the Northern Ireland peace accords in the late 1990s and he vigorously opposed the Vietnam and Iraq conflicts, much to the chargrin of the Johnson and Bush Junior Administrations respectively.

For all that, Kennedy, as noted above, gathered some political scars. There was the expectation that he would follow his slain brothers and contest the presidency, which he did in a failed Democratic Party primary campaign against then incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980. He lost that race due to the shadow that had been cast by an incident that had occurred a little over 11 years earlier - the Chappaquiddick incident of 1969 where Kennedy drove a car (while drunk) into the river in that small Massachussetts town killing a camapign worker, Mary Jo Kepechne, in the process.

That incident lingered as Kennedy was known to be a heavy drinker. In 1991, when his nephew, Patrick Kennedy Smith, stood trial for the rape of a young woman (for which he was acquitted), Ted Kennedy's drunken antics on the night of the alleged rape became common knowledge. Kennedy was also married three times and, like his elder brothers, probably played the field with women.

For all his personal weaknesses, Kennedy was one of the few mainstream politicians in the US to genuinely believe in social justice, particularly for those from marginalised backgrounds. His parents had taught him (as they had his three deceased brothers and countless sisters) that their privileges had conferred on them a responsibility to give back as well.

Tonight, the Kennedy family again is in mourning and this only two weeks after the passing of Eunice Kennedy-Shriver, one of Ted's elder sisters and the founder of the Special Olympics for people with intellectual disabilities. But perhaps in the spirit world above, the Kennedy brothers are now finally re-united alongside other long departed members of their clan and in the best Irish tradition, this may well mean a celebration as almost all of the members of the family born to Joseph Senior and Rosemary Kennedy (apart from Jean) are now there.

And celebrate they can for Senator Edward Kennedy has, at this time, finished some of the mission that his brothers John and Robert could not. At the same time, America should celebrate the passing of the last great Democratic Party 'liberal' politician too.

Requiescat in peace Edward M. Kennedy.

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