Massachusetts Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy died early this morning after a 15 month battle with brain cancer. He was 77.
I had a feeling his time was coming soon. Earlier this month, he was too ill to attend either the funeral of his older sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver or to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed upon him by President Obama. It had been hoped the President would take time out of his Martha's Vineyard vacation to meet with Senator Kennedy but those plans were scuttled.
Kennedy was first elected to the U.S. Senate in a special election in 1962 and would be re-elected to eight more full terms, most recently in 2006. He would unsuccessfully challenge Jimmy Carter for the Democratic Party nomination in 1980. Yet there can be no question that Kennedy's challenge hurt Carter considerably in the 1980 Presidential election.
Of course, Kennedy would never attain the office held by his brother John and that was sought by brother Robert before being cut down by an assassin's bullet. This was in no small part due to his personal behavior be it his temporary expulsion from Harvard College, Chappaquiddick, the incident involving his nephew William Kennedy Smith not to mention his alcoholism and his carousing with women. However, he became more grounded after his second marriage to Victoria Anne Reggie in 1992.
Kennedy was simultaneously a fence mender and a ferocious partisan. He was enormously helpful to President Reagan with regard to developing his relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev. But he did everything he could to successfully damage Reagan's appointment of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. Kennedy was also helpful to President Bush where it concerned No Child Left Behind. But he did everything he could to damage our efforts in Iraq including his infamous comment about Abu Ghraib prison in May 2004 when he said, "Shamefully we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management, U.S. management."
Nevertheless, his passing leaves an enormous void in the U.S. Senate that will not be easily replaced. A special election will be held within the next six months to fill the now vacant Senate seat. Shortly before his passing, Kennedy had called on Massachusetts lawmakers to amend the law to allow Governor Deval Patrick to name a successor immediately upon his death. Ironically, Kennedy had saw to it that Patrick's predecessor, Mitt Romney, would not have such a power in the event John Kerry was elected President in 2004. Ted Kennedy didn't want Romney appointing a Republican to the U.S. Senate so lawmakers in Massachusetts took that power away from him. You have to give Senator Kennedy props for being a masterful politician.
Universal health care, of course, was an issue that was dear to Senator Kennedy. In light of how poorly received Obamacare has been received look for President Obama to use Senator Kennedy's passing to sell his health care proposals in the coming days and weeks. In emphasizing the legacy of Ted Kennedy, President Obama will make the case that the passage of universal health care will represent that final piece of his legacy. It will be shameless and exactly how Senator Kennedy would have wanted it.
Now that Edward Kennedy is gone, 81-year-old Jean Kennedy Smith is the last surviving sibling of the Kennedy clan.