The story of the Kennedys reads like an ancient saga, with its battles and heroes, like a Greek tragedy with its hubris and disaster, and like a chapter from the Bible, with its human flaws and overcomings. Now Edward Kennedy has died, the last of Joe and Rose’s sons and daughters. (See Kennedy seen as giant on domestic issues, Soviet Jewry) A nation grieving over his brothers’ murders would have made him president, except for a dark night in Chappaquiddick that tainted his career. But he grew past the taint and served this nation honorably and well for 46 years. In a way, he was somewhat like Samson, who summoned his last strength to help his people.
Kennedy’s comparable task, pushing health-care reform through Congress, remains unfinished. But even those who don’t support the reforms he fought for acknowledge and respect his passionate advocacy, and that may yet carry the day. Should some useful and compassionate health-care reform be enacted, it ought – as has already been suggested – to bear his name.
That alone would be legacy enough.
But there is so much more that he left us, legislation in support of labor, voting rights, and civil rights, to name a few issues that bear his mark.
The Anti-Defamation League called him “a voice of reason, principle, and passion that cut to the core of the fundamental ideals and future of this nation, especially in the tumultuous and polarizing policy debates.”
Indeed, he was known for reaching across the aisle and working toward compromises – which should be an example for other members of Congress, especially during the health-care reform debate.
Kennedy “fought against anti-Semitism, racism, prejudice, and bigotry of all kinds,” the ADL continued. “He was a staunch supporter of Israel and an outspoken advocate for Soviet Jews.”
The Orthodox Union, which bestowed on Kennedy its Friend of the Synagogue Award in 2001, called him “a towering figure whose contributions to the United States over his lengthy Senate tenure are as numerous as they are legendary.”
Among the initiatives cited by the OU are “promoting religious liberty through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act; expanding educational opportunity for all America’s children, particularly those with learning disabilities through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and assuring the equitable treatment of students displaced by Hurricane Katrina who relocated to parochial schools; and support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.”
B’nai B’rith International put it simply, and well: “No one else had such an impressive record of looking out for the most vulnerable – children, the poor, and the elderly.”
May his memory be a blessing.