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Dan Balz's Take

Dan Balz's Take

A Legislator Like No Other

By Dan Balz
For a generation or more, Edward M. Kennedy held two roles in the political life of the country. He was the vibrant symbol of American liberalism in an era of conservative ascendance. He was also the vigorous embodiment of a pragmatic legislator in an era of deep partisan divisions and polarization in the nation's politics.

Kennedy's death from brain cancer late Tuesday brought an end to one of the most storied political careers of the last half century. That he died at a moment when one of the greatest causes of his lifetime -- enactment of universal health insurance -- faces major obstacles on Capitol Hill only underscored the void his absence has left.

Kennedy was the last of the Kennedy brothers, the patriarch of one of the most glamorous, influential and star-crossed families in American political history. He was father, uncle, sibling and leader in carrying on the traditions established by his two slain brothers, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. He knew tragedy and triumph, disappointment and elation, scandal and ultimately enormous success.

He sought the presidency but never achieved the ultimate prize in politics that once seemed part of his destiny. But with his defeat at the hands of Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Democratic primaries, Kennedy seemed liberated from the burden of having to follow his brothers in a quest for the White House and went on to become what President Obama called early Wednesday the "greatest senator of our time."

Obama owes his presidency in part to the endorsement he received from Kennedy at a critical moment in the Democratic nomination battle in 2008. Kennedy urged Obama to run in 2008, not to wait, as others were counseling. Kennedy knew that Obama's hopes of becoming president would diminish the longer he stayed in the Senate.

Kennedy saw in Obama something of his own brothers, and his eventual endorsement-- which ruptured his relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton -- represented a passing of the Kennedy mantle to the young senator from Illinois. In return, Obama agreed to make enactment of health care legislation one of his first priorities as president.

Kennedy was steadfast in his political ideology. He was the champion of the poor, the downtrodden, the weak and dispossessed. He battled for the causes of civil rights and women's rights and health care and education spending. He believed in the power of government, whether it was in or out of fashion, as a force for change and for good. He voted against the resolution authorizing the Iraq war and remained one of the war's fiercest critics.

Kennedy fought for those causes in the Senate and spoke for them as the leader of his party's liberal wing. The senator's Web site, marking his death early Wednesday, featured the quotation that summed up that commitment, taken from his remarkable address to the Democratic National Convention in New York in 1980 as the last flames of his presidential candidacy were extinguished.

To tears throughout Madison Square Garden, Kennedy issued the call that echoed through the rest of this life: "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."

Ronald Klain, chief of staff to Vice President Biden, recalled that speech early Wednesday as he reflected on Kennedy's death. "For many of us active in politics and policy," he said, "Senator Kennedy's stirring speech at the 1980 Democratic convention is a statement of idealism, determination and principle in politics that still inspires and guides."

Charles Campion, a Boston-based political consultant who recalled standing for 12 hours at a VFW hall in West Roxbury, Mass., during Kennedy's first race for the Senate in 1962, said early Wednesday, "His greatest legacy was his own faith and unwavering beliefs. He followed his own compass and regardless of polls and even his own political vulnerabilities, he would never compromise or finesse on his principles."

Those convictions made him a lightning rod for criticism from conservatives. Through much of the last quarter century, the name Kennedy was used by Republican strategists to tar other politicians running for office, a guilt-by-association label that became a staple in many GOP campaigns.

Kennedy seemed an easy target in those political conflicts, an old-fashioned liberal who in an age when many prefer the label "progressive" never flinched from defending liberalism or ran from the label and what it stood for. Yet, when George W. Bush came to the White House in 2001, it was Kennedy to whom he reached out for help in passing his education reform initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act.

That, too, was typical of Kennedy's life and legacy. As much as he was the liberal's liberal, he was the legislator's legislator, a man willing and able to work across party lines, a politician of deep conviction who knew how and when to cut a deal, who believed in the end that the role of a politician was to make progress, if not all at once then step by step.

He loved the Senate and his affable personality helped lubricate relationships that otherwise might never have existed. He was both respected and well liked by his political opponents. He worked closely on legislation with Republicans like John McCain of Arizona (McCain's 2008 presidential candidacy was, for a time, badly damaged by his association with Kennedy on immigration reform) and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Both men recently noted how the health care battle this year might have been different had Kennedy been able to participate, and his death brought statements of sadness and respect from Republicans as well as Democrats. Hatch described him as an "iconic, larger than life United States senator whose influence cannot be overstated."

Not that Kennedy shrank from partisan combat. His relentless attacks on Robert Bork, whose 1987 nomination to the Supreme Court was blocked by Democratic opposition, will long be remembered by conservatives and Republicans for its harshness.

But when the time came for moving legislation, few senators were ever shrewder or more committed to delivering results than Kennedy. Backed by one of the most able staffs on Capitol Hill, Kennedy churned through legislation, mastering policy and process, knowing the angles and earning the respect of allies and rivals as he pushed for results.

"Senator Kennedy represented a balance between principle and practicality that set the standard for effective political leadership," said Democratic strategist Geoff Garin. "On the one hand, he was a passionate and compelling advocate for social justice. At the same time, he believed in the art of compromise and in the value of getting things done. That combination resulted in an extraordinary body of landmark legislation and also created a modern day model of legislative leadership at its best."

Kennedy's legacy also is one of personal redemption. His first dreams of winning the White House were ended in 1969 when he drove off a bridge on Martha's Vineyard's Chappaquiddick Island that resulted in the death of 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne. He was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and the accident trailed him for years

His 1980 campaign, in which he challenged a sitting president of his own party, foundered at least in part by Kennedy's own lack of readiness as a candidate. Through many of those years, his personal life was in turmoil. His first marriage ended in divorce. But he turned his life around, settling into his role as a leader of the Senate and a new marriage to Victoria Reggie, who remained at his side throughout the year-long battle with cancer.

Kennedy's death Tuesday night came one year to the day when he appeared before the Democratic National Convention in Denver, sick with cancer and fighting a painful case of kidney stones. Everyone in the hall knew it would be the last convention Kennedy would address. As in Madison Square Garden 28 years earlier, there were many tears that night in Denver, but for a different reason.

Kennedy's body was weak but his spirit was strong and his voice resonant. " I have come here tonight," he said in his rich Boston accent, "to stand with you to change America, to restore its future, to rise to our best ideals and to elect Barack Obama president of the United States."

He lived to see Obama elected and inaugurated, but not to participate in or see the end of the battle to change the nation's health care system. But he has left behind a legacy that few in public life will ever achieve.

Posted at 9:46 AM ET on Aug 26, 2009  | Category:  Dan Balz's Take
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Previous: In Life and Politics, Kennedy Played Multiple Roles | Next: Obama Mourns Passing of 'a Colleague, a Counselor and a Friend'

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You sicko Democrat America-haters can stand the truth on its head as much as you want. It is YOU who will never prevail.
This great nation of freedom, law and opportunity will never knuckle under to communist dictators like Obama and his co-conspirator Ted Kennedy. Yeah, Teddy was a legislator like no other. Don't know any other who drowned a woman while he called a lawyer instead of a rescue squad. Of course there's the Democrat Senate "dean" Harry Byrd who used to lynch blacks as a KKK bigwig.

Posted by: kypriotis | September 2, 2009 10:24 PM

The US Constitution and American People have lost their fiercest advocate and truest friend. The US Senate and the American People must now hold his torch high or be forever darkened and diminished by his absence.

To those who spew vile comments at this media site, thanks for once again demonstrating why the republican party, its' leadership, constituency, and agenda have been proven vastly unworthy of the American People, Our Flag, and our National Destiny.

Moreover, the republican party, its' leadership and agenda have long been proven to be miserable failures and a hideous blight upon our Nation.

So vast and onerous is the republican failure, that it will surely take the remaining years of the next decade before the latest republican disaster of government is repaired, as always, by competent Democratic leaders and competent Democratic governance committed to the good of the American People.

To those who continue to spew lies and misinformation at this site and elsewhere in the news media, you should know that most of the smart people have never been fooled by you or your lies. You have long been recognized as the enemy of truth and therefore the enemy of Our US Constitution and the American People.

As the tangible consequences of recent republican governance continue to wreak havoc upon our national economy, even the most trusting citizens can clearly see the continuing damage resulting from criminally incompetent republican rule. This is the truth that can no longer be hidden or ignored by the mainstream media.

The republican coalition of the rich and the stupid has finally become untenable. If the truth prevails, the future, once again, will belong to the American People not global corporations and their vile republican propagandist lackeys.

The enemies of Senator Kennedy and our President are truly the enemies of our Nations economic future and Mankind itself.

They will never prevail.

Posted by: MrTruth | August 31, 2009 12:59 PM

Kennedy haters slide out from under their protective rocks even as Republicans in Congress pay tribute to a senator considered, among all senators, to be the most committed and respected member of the Senate in the last five decades. Were these blind reptilians to think for even a minute about their lives and how much better off they and their families are because of Ted Kennedy's unwavering support for all Americans in all matters of the human condition, they would cease hurling their bile and realize that Ted Kennedy stood for fairness and the dignity of all. But, they won't and don't think because everything to them is but sensory input.

Ted Kennedy was my senator, and I could not be prouder or sadder today.

Posted by: sbaron11 | August 27, 2009 9:34 AM

Ted Kennedy was indeed a legislator like no other. He defiantly stood shoulder to shoulder with illegal aliens in an immigration rally in DC, exhorting illegals to stand their ground. He should have been arrested then, along with all the illegals. Yup, he was a legislator like no other.

Posted by: cencarna | August 27, 2009 12:40 AM

Has anybody here seen my old friend Ted?

Posted by: JohnQuimby | August 26, 2009 8:12 PM

In nearly 50 years in the Senate, Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, served alongside 10 presidents - his brother John Fitzgerald Kennedy among them - compiling an impressive list of legislative achievements on health care, civil rights, education, immigration and more.

Posted by: torontoanalyst | August 26, 2009 3:29 PM


Posted by: torontoanalyst | August 26, 2009 3:27 PM

NEW YORK, Aug. 25 -- A wealthy investment banker and prominent fundraiser for President Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top Democrats was arrested Tuesday on charges that he lied to get a $74 million business loan.
Prosecutors accused Hassan Nemazee of giving Citibank "fraudulent and forged" documents showing that he owned millions of dollars in collateral. A criminal complaint also accuses Nemazee of providing false verifying information for financial institutions, including a phone number that actually belonged to him.
Prosecutors said FBI agents stopped the 59-year-old financier on Sunday at Newark Liberty International Airport as he prepared to board a flight to Rome.
Nemazee, chairman and chief executive of New York-based Nemazee Capital, was national finance co-chairman for Clinton's presidential bid last year, and after her primary defeat he raised money for Obama. In 2004, he worked for the presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) as New York state finance chairman.
A Clinton spokesman didn't immediately return an e-mail message seeking comment.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton picked Nemazee to be U.S. ambassador to Argentina, but his nomination was never confirmed.
Nemazee, who did not enter a plea or speak at the court hearing, faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine if convicted.

Posted by: hclark1 | August 26, 2009 3:27 PM

Kennedy was great the conservatives who blast him, are full of it they have too many of their own skeletons in their own closets. At least the Kennedy's always tried to do good for the general public.

Posted by: lildg54 | August 26, 2009 2:11 PM

1st, a reaction to all those who wish to focus only on his mistakes, grievous as they were. David caused Bathsheba's husband to be sent to certain death and yet the child of their union was Solomon. David, for all of his many sins, lived life fully, learned from his sins, and was beloved of God. Yes, Senator Kennedy was human with outsized sins but he also had an outsized joy for life, love of other people, and desire to serve. We are all the product of the good and bad of our personalities. Senator Kennedy's good traits were legion and we rejoice in them and thank God for him and his work. I pray that he find joy and peace with God and his family. My husband and I have a large family - among them 5 sons. We understand the bond of brothers and rejoice that Senator Kennedy is enjoying heavenly reunion with his brothers. Our prayers are with the Kennedy family.

Posted by: luckybks6 | August 26, 2009 2:10 PM

He was a great politician and he had a lot of very good ideas to try and solve the problems of the poor and the less wealthy. It is very sad and I can understand the sadness of his family and friends. I sympthize with all those who mourn him and I share their loss.

Posted by: marishlippi | August 26, 2009 2:04 PM


Ted Kennedy served in the U.S. military from 1951-1953. Just wanted to clarify as you seemed to imply that he hadn't served.

Posted by: billshah | August 26, 2009 1:57 PM

How pathetic, effete and silly has the "hard hitting press" become. Paeans for a man who under any other circumstance would be considered, at best, as a joke and honestly despised. But no, we will now revel in hypocrisy, delusions and selective amnesia.

Let's remember a few facts:

Teddy was responsible for the creation of HMO's. That's worked out real well but no one seems to want to remember that. He was the guiding hand behind the latest health care reform drive to.

He never had a real job. Never supervised, managed or administered any thing. Who does that remind you of?

His expulsion from college for cheating and his father buying him a degree from another university.

His father buying him his assignment to our Paris embassy as a naval attache in the middle of the Korean War. No word on what happened to the guy who replaced him in the war zone.

His father buying him a senate seat.

His father's money buying the Chappaquiddik(?) cover-up after he cowardly ran away and abandoned that young woman to a slow death by drowning.

His conducting of secret talks with the Soviets in contravention of the law. This would have been considered treason in any sane nation.

He was an immense philanderer.

He was a drunk.

He played a major role in the Big Dig in Boston that went 14 times over budget, involved countless scandals and immense graft.

He routinely smeared and slandered those like Bork and many others whose ideology didn't quite match his own.

Never met a tax increase or spending bill he didn't love and is one of those chiefly responsible for our current economic mess or was he sleeping it off for the last 40 years.

By any factual review he was not a man to be admired except by the msm (Is Chris Matthews' leg tingling as he weeps and declares Obama the last Kennedy brother? Sick and disgusting sycophancy.) and Democrat Pols who will try to make personal hay out of the old reprobate's death. In the end I will pray for him. He was a very sad, pathetic character who probably never had a real chance in life because of his old man, an admirer of National Socialism and a business associate of gangsters. For that reason I feel sorry for him.

I apologize in advance for intruding this dose of reality into the liberal crying jag and opium dream. There will be a shortage of lotus blossoms for sure. My conscience would not let me do otherwise. America just isn't buying this c---ola any more. Hey, will Teddy's corpse join Michael Jackson's on a world tour accompanied by a troop of professional mourners made up of exploiters, hangers on race panderers, weeping Democrat senators and media chorus in cherub costumes? Oh, the humanity.

How many truly decent, admirable people died over night unnoticed and unlauded? How many young soldiers died in Afghanistan?

Hopium Dopium Chumps

Posted by: JoeDBrown | August 26, 2009 1:27 PM

Teddy was a great senator, and I was always a big supporter. But for Chappaquiddic, he might even have been a great president.

That having been said, I believe that burial at Arlington should be limited to those who served in the armed forces. Wealth, priviledge, and great service in the U.S. Senate is not the same as serving in uniform.

Posted by: curtnevan | August 26, 2009 1:26 PM

"Let us not forget this lesson and completely stop the Federal government from intruding on the private sector Health services industry which is now the best in the world."

How anyone can continue to repeat this blatant falsehood is beyond me. The U.S. spends more per capita, and a higher percentage of GDP, than any other developed nation, and yet has the worst health outcomes of the developed world, worse than some developing nations. That's not the best, it's abysmal.

Hopefully Sen. Kennedy's tragic but not unexpected passing will be a stimulus to passing effective health care reform.

Posted by: luridone | August 26, 2009 1:12 PM

I hope Mary Jo is waiting to knock him down to Hell with a baseball bat.

Posted by: moonchild64 | August 26, 2009 1:00 PM

Senator Kennedy was a staunch and avid supporter of Health Care for All Americans> God Bless Him! But, why is the Most Needed & Imporatant PREVENTATIVE "DENTAL" EVER mentioned??! -- We Listened to Rep. Jim Moran at a Virginia Town-Hall yesterday! And He included a lot of TRUTHs against the many MYTHS! But, He, nor anyone mentioned the Most Important PREVENTATIVE for Over-All good Health, which is Proper DENTAL & ORAL Health Care!!?? Why? No answers are ever given. So any such plan or so-called Choice is still a Lie, and a SICKNESS / DISEASE Plan!! We want to Choose a Plan that may have less of this or that, but We can Have, if We Choose, "DENTAL"!! Why can't We ever get an Honest Answer??!! - Without "DENTAL" any Plan is NOT for Prevention & Wellness!! Why won't Congress ever mention this Most IMPORTANT #1 PREVENTATIVE!!! No U.S. Citizen shoukld ever have to go without "DENTAL" Care,- period!!

Posted by: jward52 | August 26, 2009 12:33 PM

Senator Kennedy was a inspiration to all. Through is hard work in politics for over 40 years he was able to accomplish things that many others were never able to do. Even being a Republican I view today as a very sad day for all. We truly lost one of the best. Rest in peace Mr. Kennedy

Posted by: bc10 | August 26, 2009 12:21 PM

Mary Jo's family can now rejoice! Their daughter's murderer is finally dead.

Posted by: MichaelDavitt | August 26, 2009 12:19 PM

Being responsible for the death of one intern is apparently no problem with Dems....figures. What exactly is the magic number, two interns, three? Anyone? Beuller, Bueller? Conversely, how many is it before being critical makes you a "mentally sick Repub"? If it's less than four killed, is it "mentally sick" to criticize?

Posted by: VA_Republican | August 26, 2009 12:12 PM

Right. A guy who was still trying to manipulate a state on his death bed that he had hegemony over. Using dirty power to control a state that acquiesced to his wishes. (a kind way to put it). I hope this is the last of totalitarian politics in any state in the country.

Posted by: hz9604 | August 26, 2009 12:10 PM

I have not yet read the comments to this article. I did read the comments to another Post article on the Senator's death and expected negative comments but nothing like what I found. Many of us who comment seem so full of hate and anger and too many of us are basing our feelings on mis-information. Facts, good intentions, and good deeds, where are you--with the Senator for sure but stay with the rest of us if you can.

Posted by: joeparadis | August 26, 2009 12:10 PM

Senator Kennedy's vote against the preemptive bush/cheney Iraq war, and Kennedy's legacy of social legislation to move the US forward, despite those cons determined to keep us backward are the legacy of a great man.

Posted by: jama452 | August 26, 2009 12:03 PM

I see we have the usual idiots posting on Sen. Kennedy's death, I can understand the problem. (Mentally Sick Repubs)

Posted by: shipfreakbo214 | August 26, 2009 11:53 AM

Kennedy was certainly a flawed human, a partisan and often a divider. But his passing is a sobering reminder of his commitment to ideals as well. And perhaps it should also serve to call the moral middle back to the ideal of affordable health care for all.

Posted by: Jumpy66 | August 26, 2009 11:44 AM

Ted Kennedy fought for decades to provide Americans an optional public health care plan - and then supported Obama who wasn't (and isn't) that interested in health care reform.
Whatever it took to ensure the Clintons didn't usurp the Kennedy dynasty.

Posted by: angie12106 | August 26, 2009 11:42 AM

R.I.P., Ted Kennedy, the one Senator who did the most and was most effective at insuring that the average American be granted some dignity.

Compare his record to the sad sacks in the GOP who have done nothing, ever, for Americans.

Posted by: Gatsby10 | August 26, 2009 11:18 AM

Considering that Ted Kennedy died of a brain tumor, why has the Post not reported the new study that links brain tumors to cell phone use?

Posted by: foofoofoo | August 26, 2009 11:04 AM

"Kennedy passes torch to Obama"...and his Clown Mask? No, that's right, President Arrogant One already has his.
"Shudder to think of Huge decisions made behind Senator Kennedy's door" ...what, like what gin to have that night and where to hook up with interns?
His work was to constanly try to bring this country to its' knees with over-blown giveaway social programs like the $7 Trillion dollars spent on the complete failure of the 'Great Society'. This should be a constant reminder of what a failure socialist policies really look like when mistakenly instituted.
Altruism is the root of all evil in politics e governments.
Let us not forget this lesson and completely stop the Federal government from intruding on the private sector Health services industry which is now the best in the world.
Best regards and condolences to the family on their loss.

Posted by: gtv_john | August 26, 2009 10:58 AM

The repeated "comments" calling the Senator a "fat phoney" are horrid. For sure, "overweight" probably would be more appropriate.

Posted by: HassanAliAl-Hadoodi | August 26, 2009 10:49 AM

Mary Jo has been waiting for a long time. Can't understand how someone who committed murder (or at the least manslaughter) can be made a hero.

Posted by: bandsposs | August 26, 2009 10:49 AM

America lost a true American Patriot today. His work for the disadvantaged will be his legacy and his passing leaves a hole in this world that will be terribly hard to fill. May his family and America find solace in his good work and may he rest in peace.

Posted by: Godhimself1 | August 26, 2009 10:16 AM




OR (if links are corrupted / disabled):
RE: "Zap. Have You Been Targeted by a Directed Energy Weapon?"

Posted by: scrivener50 | August 26, 2009 9:51 AM

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