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Veteran Senator Edward Kennedy dies at 77

Text by Mehdi CHEBIL

Latest update : 2009-08-28

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Capitol Hill's "liberal lion", has died after a battle with brain cancer. The veteran Democrat will be buried at Arlington National Cemetary near his two brothers, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.

Through nine terms in the US Senate and a gruelling 15-month struggle against brain cancer, Ted Kennedy maintained his political energy up until the end.

Edward Moore Kennedy died Tuesday night at the age of 77.

President Barack Obama said he was “heartbroken” when he learned that JFK’s younger brother had passed away.

Ted Kennedy had long supported the Obama administration’s political struggle for universal health care against increasingly fierce opposition. As he was undergoing treatment at the Massachusetts General Hospital, the Kennedy clan’s last surviving icon threw all his weight behind Obama’s key domestic reform.

“This is the cause of my life,” Kennedy wrote in Newsweek in July 2009.

He repeatedly drew from his own “up close” experience with the US health-care system. As a senator (and member of a wealthy family), he received top care, but he also witnessed the “frustration and outrage” of average Americans who couldn’t afford quality care.

“Every American should get the same treatment that US senators are entitled to,” he wrote. Kennedy had backed sweeping health-care reforms since the late 1960s.

Lion of the Senate and Democratic patriarch

In office since 1962, Kennedy became known as “the Lion of the Senate” for his long history of contributing to key legislation on a wide range of issues, including health care, immigration, civil rights and education. He was the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labour and Pensions Committee at his death.

Despite his martial nickname, the old lion didn’t have to bare his teeth to get more than 300 bills he wrote enacted into laws. Kennedy was both a gifted orator and a politician with a keen sense of the balance of power, known for his ability to compromise with Republicans and build consensus among Senate members with different views.

“Ronnie and Ted could always find common ground, and they always had great respect for one another,” said Nancy Reagan, the widow of the conservative US President Ronald Reagan, in a statement.

As an influential liberal veteran in the Senate, Kennedy also became the patriarch of Democratic politics. His only presidential bid, in 1980, failed, partly because of a scandal over a car accident in 1969, when he drove a car off a bridge, causing the death of his female passenger.

He was instrumental in helping Obama get elected and, according to a recently released book, the US president said that Kennedy’s support at the Denver Democratic convention in August 2008 was “one of the best days in his life,” noted Ed O’Keefe, a Washington Post correspondent for FRANCE 24.

“If you ask people who work with the president now to name the one or two most important moments that really turned the campaign in Obama’s direction, they’d immediately say the Kennedy endorsement did it, because he lent the star power, the credibility, the history of that family. A real pillar of the Democratic Party threw his weight behind the Obama campaign,” said O’Keefe.


Last icon of a political dynasty?

Kennedy’s death at 77 in his home at Hyannis Port in Massachusetts is almost atypical for a family marked by tragedy and untimely death.

Two of his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, were assassinated in their forties.

His brother Joe died in World War II, and his sister Kathleen died in a plane crash in France.

His mentally disabled sister Rosemary was institutionalized most of her life after undergoing a failed lobotomy.

The death of his nephew, John Kennedy Jr, in a plane crash in 1999 cemented the myth of a glamorous family struck by morbid fate.

Ted Kennedy’s death leaves this political dynasty with no real leader, but some analysts point to Barack Obama as the “next Kennedy”.

“Ted Kennedy supported a generational renewal in the Democratic Party,” said Charlotte Lepri, a researcher at the Paris-based IRIS think tank, during an interview with FRANCE 24. “It’s easy to compare Obama with JFK. Both were young presidents. JFK was the first Catholic and Obama is the first African-American to be elected president.”

As Kennedy’s final, emotional plea in favour of quality health care for all Americans made clear, Obama is playing for more than his own reputation in his current struggle for health-care reform. He is also holding the key to the political legacy of the last great Kennedy.

Date created : 2009-08-26