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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 45, October 24, 2009

Edward Moore Kennedy—Defender of a Dream

Sunday 25 October 2009, by Sheel Bhadra Kumar


Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, the legendary political patriarch of the most influential family of American politics and a man who knew huge privilege and terrible tragedy in near equal measure in his life, passed away on August 25, 2009 at his home in Hyannis post Massachusetts at the age of 77.

His death signals the end of an era that held sway from the early 1960s. He was the youngest surviving brother of the four Kennedys. Edward Kennedy lived in the shadow of his more famous brothers in the formative years of his political life and carried on their legacies admirably over the coming decades championing the cause of peace, social justice, education and civil rights.

A liberal democrat, he was an ardent champion of health care and labour reforms. He had contributed notably towards the welfare of the working class. Popularly known as Teddy Kennedy, he was the most prominent voice in the USA speaking for the disadvantaged. He was serving as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labour and Pensions at the time of his death.

He was a leading spokesman of liberal ideas and issues. Besides opposing the Vietnam War, he played a crucial role in resolving the conflicts in Northern Ireland by helping to bring about the Good Friday Agreement. Senator Kennedy gave a boost to Barack Obama’s campaign (the first African-American candidate for presidency) by endorsing his Democratic nomination for presidency and effectively puncturing Hillary Clinton’s mounted bid for presidency.

Ted Kennedy was born on February 22, 1932 in the Boston suburb of Brookline, Massachusetts. He was the youngest of nine children (four brothers and five sisters) of Joseph Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Both his parents came from prominent Irish Catholic families with long involvement in the Democratic politics of Boston and Massachusetts.

His father had made a fortune in real estate, movies, banking and served in President F.D. Roosevelt’s administration and then as the ambassador to Great Britain. Being privileged of belonging to an influential family, his father tried his best to provide his children the best education available at that time in the US. Edward M. Kennedy was admitted to Harvard University after completion of his school education. But at Harvard University he was convicted to cheating and expelled from there. Being disillusioned, he joined the Army. But by the quirk of his fate in 1995, he was readmitted to Harvard University from where he graduated in law. In 1960, when his elder brother John F.Kennedy was elected the President of the United States, he resigned and vacated the post of Senator from Massachusetts, thus paving the way for Ted Kennedy to be elected and hold the post of Senator of Massachusetts. He served 46 years as the most well-known Democrat in the Senate until the end of his life.

EDWARD M. KENNEDY had experienced and absorbed personal losses and setbacks throughout his life. His eldest brother Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr died in 1944 at the age of 29 while on a risky World War II bombing mission. One of his elder brothers, John F. Kennedy, who was elected as the President of the United States in 1960, was assassinated in 1963 in a national parade procession which has been a mystery not unveiled till date. Another elder brother who was also a Senator, Robert F. Kennedy, was felled by the assassin’s bullets in his forties in 1968 during the Democratic presidential campaign. One of his sisters, Kathleen, had died in a plane crash in 1948. Among the brothers, Edward Kennedy was the only brother who died after reaching old age and the reason of his death was malignant brain tumour. Once in 1954, Kennedy himself was almost killed in a plane crash which left him with permanent back and neck problems. He had to bear unbearable pain when he witnessed the sudden death of his three nephews. Once he had to bear responsibilities for the death due to drowning of a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide to his brother Robert, at Chappaquiddick Island.

Kennedy was the last survivor of a generation of Kennedys that dominated American politics in the 1960s and that came to embody glamour, political idealism and untimely death. The Kennedy mystique or the Kennedy myth held the imagination of the world for decades. Ted Kennedy was at or near the centre of much of American history in the latter part of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st century. For much of his life, he experienced triumph to catastrophe, winning every Senate election he entered but failed in his only trial for presidency. Kennedy was married to Joan Bennett Kennedy. But after 24 yrs of married life his marriage was in troubled waters in 1982 when they were separated. Again in 1992, Ted Kennedy was married to Victoria Ann Reggie, a Washington lawyer, known as Vicky.

Edward Kennedy spent much of his last year in treatment and recuperation. His public appearances were minimal. He returned to Capitol Hill last summer to cast a decisive vote on a medicare bill. In the last presidential election campaign he had attended the Democratic National Convention in Denver and addressed the gathering. He had been in precarious health since he suffered a seizure in May 2008. He had undergone brain tumour surgery at the Duke University Medical Centre where his tumour as removed. After this survey, he was incapacitated and little seen in public places and gatherings.

Edward Kennedy was the last of the illustrious clan. He didn’t compete with his elder brothers in stature and charisma. His elder brothers shined brilliantly like stars but faded away soon. On the other hand, despite lacking the brilliance of his elder brothers, his was a long and steady glow. It was Edward Kennedy whose influence on American life, politics and policies was most enduring.

The impact of his gigantic personality had its sway even after his death. The funeral of Edward Kennedy was attended by President Barack Obama, three former Presidents [George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter], 50 Senators, 100 Members of the Congress and more than tens of thousands of people along with a range of celebrities at the Pews of the Basilica of our Lady of Perpetual Help, a historic Church in Boston. The Democratic giant was buried at Arrington National Cemetery of Virginia Hillside overlooking Washington, along with his slain brothers.

President Barack Obama led his tribute saying: “The outpouring of love, gratitude which we have all witnessed is a testimony to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives. For his family, he was a guardian, for Americans, he was a defender of a dream.”

Dr Sheel Bhadra Kumar is an Associate Professor of Political Science, Government P.G. College, Mahasamund (Chhattisgarh).

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