Ted Kennedy is gone. And the “Lion of the Senate” went to his rest without the one thing he had worked hardest to achieve: universal, affordable health care for Americans. Shame on you, Washington! Shame on you, America! You betrayed a fine man, and you don’t deserve the legacy he wanted so much to leave you.
During nearly half a century in the Senate, Kennedy toiled tirelessly to create a better society, working with lawmakers and presidents of both parties. At the same time, he held fast to principles that some cynics decry as “liberal.” His legacy includes legislation to protect civil and labor rights, upgrade schools, increase student aid and contain the spread of nuclear weapons. But he wanted more for America.
“There’s a lot to do,” Kennedy said back in 2006. “I think most of all it’s the injustice that I continue to see and the opportunity to have some impact on it.”
Yes, “most of all,” he wanted to fight injustice – the kind of injustice perpetrated by America’s health care system. He saw the cruelty it inflicts on the weak and helpless, and the abuse it allows by the privileged and well connected. He worked tirelessly to bring about health care reform, always with the goal of universal coverage in his sights. But greedy rats and spineless mice gnawed away at his dream, and he has not lived to see it realized.
Petty politics and self-serving guile have kept health care reform at bay for month after month as brain cancer destroyed the 77-year-old senator’s life. On one side, the enormous wealth of the health industry profiteers has been deployed to spread lies and generate fake protests, while a gullible media – and undisguised propagandists – play along. On the other side, Kennedy’s “allies” have waffled and squabbled, putting their political careers and financial interests ahead of their country’s welfare.
No one has had the guts to force the issue now that “bipartisanship” has proved chimerical. No one – not even President Obama – has dared to risk the results of failure by boldly throwing the dice. No one, in the words of Kipling, would “make one heap of all their winnings and risk it all on one turn of pitch and toss.” Now, even if some measure of health care reform is achieved, it will be a hollow triumph. Without the Lion of the Senate to applaud their success, reform advocates will find the fruits of victory don’t taste nearly as sweet.
Now, the tributes are pouring in, and platitudes fill the airwaves and newspaper columns. Perhaps the most poignant is the President’s simple statement that he is “heartbroken.” He has every reason to be.