8 a.m. ET: With Afghanistan deteriorating, the deficit growing, the CIA under fire and a host of other storylines enlivening what would normally be a quiet August, only a few figures are genuinely important enough that their deaths would bring the entire political world to a halt.
The death Tuesday night of Edward Kennedy and the outpouring of reaction in the early-morning hours have demonstrated the outsized roles he still played, at the age of 77, in the world of politics and in the American imagination. The tributes and remembrances have sought to approach Kennedy from three different angles: He was the patriarch and torch-bearer of a legendary political family; the master legislator and leader of the Senate's liberal wing; and most recently, the man who helped deliver the 2008 Democratic nomination to Barack Obama but was unable to participate in talks on the issue closest to both their hearts -- health-care reform.
"In his half-century in the public glare," David Espo of the Associated Press writes, "Kennedy was, above all, heir to a legacy — as well as a hero to liberals, a foil to conservatives, a legislator with few peers. Alone of the Kennedy men of his generation, he lived to comb gray hair, as the Irish poet had it. It was a blessing and a curse, as he surely knew, and assured that his defeats and human foibles as well as many triumphs played out in public at greater length than his brothers ever experienced." In Politico, David Rogers calls Kennedy "Camelot’s youngest brother who never reached the White House but grew into the most accomplished legislator of his generation in the Senate. ... Elected first in 1962, the 77-year-old Massachusetts liberal was rooted in the civil rights and Great Society battles of that decade, but his enduring strength was an ability to renew himself through his mastery of issues and the changing personalities of the Senate."
The New York Times says "Kennedy was at or near the center of much of American history in the latter part of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st. For much of his adult life, he veered from victory to catastrophe, winning every Senate election he entered but failing in his only try for the presidency; living through the sudden deaths of his brothers and three of his nephews; being responsible for the drowning death on Chappaquiddick Island of a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide to his brother Robert."
The Boston Globe writes that "Kennedy played a leading role in perhaps the greatest political drama of the 20th century - the dawning of the New Frontier and the soul-crushing assassinations that followed - but he will be remembered by history for his legislative achievements in health care, education, civil rights, and immigration. ... Bill by bill, provision by provision, he expanded government health support to millions of children and the elderly, helped millions more go to college, opened the immigration doors to millions of new Americans from continents other than Europe, and protected the civil rights bulwark of the ’60s through a long period of conservative domination."
Though he endured his share of controversies, the Wall Street Journal recalls, "Kennedy never entirely lost his standing, and he rebuilt his reputation sufficiently so that when candidate Barack Obama won the senator's endorsement in the Democratic primaries last year, it was seen as a major coup and helped shift the race's dynamic." Politico notes, "The arc between their careers was striking. Obama was born just a year before Kennedy came to the Senate in November 1962, and the younger man’s election as president marked an historic fulfillment of the civil rights debate in which Kennedy took part as a freshman lawmaker."
Roll Call writes, "As Obama embarked on his signature campaign to pass health care reform legislation, Kennedy — who this summer called health care reform “the cause of my life” — was physically unable to shepherd a bill from his position as chairman of the Senate [HELP Committee]. ... Kennedy was an early and influential supporter of Obama’s candidacy, and he dedicated himself in the latter part of 2008 and early months of 2009 to writing a universal health insurance bill built around Obama’s plan." But Kennedy's health rendered him unable to participate in the debate, so he tapped Chris Dodd to run the committee's health-care talks in his absence. Multiple senators on both sides of the aisle have lamented that the course of the chamber's health-care debate would have gone much differently if Kennedy had been present to bring the two parties to the negotiating table.
The AP notes, "Generations of aides recall Kennedy telling them the biggest mistake of his career was turning down a deal that President Richard M. Nixon offered for universal health care. It seemed not generous enough at the time. Having missed the opportunity then, Kennedy spent the rest of his career hoping for an elusive second chance." Kennedy's byline appeared last month on a Newsweek piece -- "The Cause of My Life" -- that outlined his lifelong fight for universal health care.
On the question of succession, Kennedy will most likely be replaced via a special election that would occur 145-160 days from today. Kennedy had asked the state's governor to change the law to allow for a temporary appointment, but AP writes that "though Massachusetts is dominated by Democrats, a change in the law isn’t a sure thing. Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo — all Democrats — gave no indication if they would support the change." The New York Times points out that "the effort to find a quick replacement for Mr. Kennedy may prove complicated. In the week before his death, reaction to his request on Beacon Hill ranged from muted to hostile. The state’s Democrats found themselves in the awkward position of being asked to reverse their own 2004 initiative calling for special elections in such instances." But the Boston Herald reports that the state House speaker had "given his behind-closed-doors blessing" to the appointment idea Tuesday, before Kennedy's death.
Aside from the Senate seat, who will succeed Edward Kennedy as the leader of the famous family? The Boston Globe reports that "some observers predict a quiet transformation in the family’s identity now that its charismatic leader is gone," with many Kennedy nieces nephews already fanned out across professions other than electoral politics. As each Kennedy brother has died, another brother has delivered his eulogy. So who will perform that service for Edward? Thurston Clarke suggests in the Daily Beast that it should be Caroline Kennedy: "As in the case of Bobby’s tribute to Jack, and Teddy’s to Bobby, her close relationship with Teddy would lend an additional poignancy and power to her words. If she is called upon to deliver his eulogy, the same magic could happen again, reviving her political career (if she wants one), and writing a fitting and poignant epitaph to the passing of Camelot’s first generation."
August 26, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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