Ted Kennedy, Great Progressive And Social Activist, 77, Dies

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[In Memoriam]

Senator Edward Kennedy, the last of the Kennedy scion has died at 77 from cancer.

The senator had fought a brave and public fight with the disease. He will be remembered for his position on progressive issues and in shaping the next generation of America’s leadership by enthusiastically supporting President Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008.

He had already left a giant footprint on American politics long before that.

Born in Brookline Massachusetts on February 22, 1932, Kennedy will be remembered for his courage and for the social causes he championed.

Senator Kennedy leaves behind Jeane Rose Kennedy as the last surviving sibling form Rose Kennedy. The late senator championed such causes as immigration through the Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2007. This was an enduring cause which linked him to his brother, John F. Kennedy, who similarly championed the rights of immigrants.

Both brothers drew from their Irish American background; a rich tapestry of idealism and progressive impetus for America. Kennedy further defined the word - liberal; choosing to show by his actions, rather than words, that liberal as a pejorative was in fact, a Republican failure to understand progressive causes and the malleable climate in American life.

Thirty some years ago, his brother Bobby Kennedy had championed a social revolution in his presidential campaign of 1970. A campaign that largely invented the idea of the political-rock-star. From Bobby, with whom he was very close, Senator Kennedy gained an understanding, firmly, of the position of African Americans as citizens in America. His support for Obama in 2008, was unflinchingly swift. He parried the blows and inevitably sour grapes of the Clinton political machine while remaining positively intransigent - helping Obama, in the words of former John F. Kennedy counsel Ted Sorenson, “to define himself as an American president and not an African American president.”

For Kennedy, the support for President Obama was not an opportunistic kick in the right direction; it seemed to come more judiciously; having weighed all alternatives the senator had reached the conclusion that Barack Obama, then a junior senator from Illinois had the type of leadership America needed.

It was clear for Senator Kennedy that it was not about a matter of who was owed what, but what America needed as a county and for the future. Ultimately, Obama’s election in 2008 seems to be rightly a mandate for health care and could bring health care for all Americas in the near future.

By helping elect President Obama he fulfilled, the prophetic words of his brother Bobby Kennedy, that in 30 years, America would have a Black president. Support for Obama, demonstrated Senator Kennedy’s understanding of the past, and the future; the void he leaves in the senate is one that will be difficult to fill.

The space he occupied, and the social role Senator Kennedy played will be missed by many, especially his adherence and love for rights, the United States Constitution and for full citizenship for all Americans. This brings, his list of accomplishments to the one he never saw materialize; health care for all Americans regardless of social position.

The current debate in Washington on health care reform is divisive. For Senator Kennedy he will be remembered for the longevity and clarity of his fight for an inclusive American health care reform. He will be remembered as the bridge of experience, as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger  will prefer, “the rock of the family”, who joined two halves of a divided political crystal; a divided Congress, and a divided family. Senator Kennedy’s skills as a legislator are the stuff political majors in colleges across America will study for many years to come; indeed, President Obama by calling him “the defender of a dream,” puts him high up, in the league of Americans who dared to - phrasing his brother, Bobby Kennedy – “dream things that never were – and say: why not.”

Senator Kennedy’s life has come full circle and his legacy will take time to etch itself and to be validated by the future. One thing that is certain is that the Boston brawler for all his missteps will be greatly missed. The fights he took will gain a social and important footnote in America’s continued democratic project.

In the end health care reform will be directly linked to Ted Kennedy and indirectly to our emerald kings, the Kennedy family. He joins his brothers in immortality, as the youngest of four brothers. The only one not extinguished by a violent death and the last male to Joseph Kennedy and Rose Kennedy’s brooding Kennedy clan: with a somewhat genteel temperament, he turned out to be the most resilient and the most political astute.

Senator Kennedy showed a remarkably survivalist instinct that allowed him to constantly plunge into the center of the storm: the eye of the hurricane. He represents the best the Kennedy clan gave America and the best that’s yet to come for the next generation of progressive leadership for every ordinary men and women in America.

In the end, Senator Kennedy will be remembered for his passion to see health care for all Americans. He succinctly called, it a right not a privilege, at the 1972 Democratic Convention and claimed health care as a life-long fight.

Sibanda is a writer for The Black Star News.

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