I Give Thanks & Respect to The Liberal Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy
“Tip O’Neill / Ted Kennedy Clansmen,” that was the description I used for Ted Kennedy in a 1982 economic editorial written for the Cincinnati Enquirer — back when I swallowed whole the rhetoric of Reagan Republicanism and before I grew into a Liberal who saw Kennedy as a source of strength and motivation to improve this nation. Today, I give thanks and respect to his legacy, for it is “the cause of his life” that kept the embers of national health insurance alive so that Obama could make the cause a reality.
Ted spoke these words in a eulogy to his assassinated brother, and today, they represent a fitting thought for him:
Beneath it all, he has tried to engender a social conscience. There were wrongs which needed attention. There were people who were poor and needed help. And we have a responsibility to them and to this country. Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off.
Obama Finishes The Business
With the strokes of 20 pens, President Obama signed the landmark health care overhaul — the most extensive social legislation enacted in decades — into law on Tuesday March 24th, 2010, saying it enshrines “the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.”
President Obama signed the measure, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, during a high-spirited ceremony in the East Room of the White House. Ted Kennedy’s last legacy became official at 11:52 a.m. Tuesday, when Obama signed the Act into Law.
“The bill I’m signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see,” Mr. Obama said, adding, “Today we are affirming that essential truth, a truth every generation is called to rediscover for itself, that we are not a nation that scales back its aspirations.”
Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Senator Ted Kennedy, who had made passing the legislation his life’s work, stood by the President and wore a blue bracelet on her wrist that said “Tedstrong.” On their right wrists, President Obama, Vice President Biden, and members of Congress also wore the inscribed blue bracelets.
The senator’s son Representative Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island, also with the President, carried a gift for Obama: a copy of a bill his father introduced in 1970 to provide national health insurance. On it, the younger Mr. Kennedy had written a personal message of thanks and appreciation to Mr. Obama. Just a day before, Patrick visited his father’s gravesite and left behind a note written on his congressional stationery Monday morning.
While President Obama gathered with lawmakers for the bill-signing ceremony Tuesday in the White House, dozens of others came to commemorate health-care legislation on a quiet hillside in Section 45 of Arlington National Cemetery. Health-care advocates and student groups were led to the grave by tour guides, one of whom pointed to the white cross and recalled, “The Great Ted Kennedy, the man who championed health care.”
Kennedy had ignored doctors’ advice and given a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver about health-care reform. Then, in a final plea, he had reiterated his feelings in a letter to Obama, which Vicki delivered after her husband died.
You will be the president who at long last signs into law the health care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society. For me, this cause stretched across decades; it has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. It was the cause of my life. – Senator Kennedy posthumously to Obama
“I remember seeing Ted walk through that door in a summit in this room a year ago — one of his last public appearances,” Obama said. “And it was hard for him to make it. But he was confident that we would do the right thing.”
Obama evoked Kennedy in conversations with members of Congress during the final days before the vote. Pelosi mentioned Kennedy in her floor speech Sunday night, causing Democratic members to erupt in chants of “Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!”
Patrick Kennedy, the son, also spoke on the House floor in the hours before the vote, and his father was foremost in his mind. “His heart and soul are in this bill,” he said.
The next morning, after he cast his vote, Patrick visited his father’s grave. There, alone in Section 45, he was more succinct. He pulled out one of his congressional note cards, which he would leave at the footstone.
“Dad,” he wrote in blue marker, “The ‘Unfinished Business’ is Done.”
His intuition that Barack Obama was the president this nation needed was confirmed as Obama signed into Law the achievement that had eluded every president before him for nearly a century. At the president’s side in this battle stood the most determined Speaker of the House in modern history, Nancy Pelosi. She refused to allow this effort for guaranteed health care to die and helped resuscitate Obama’s drive for reform — a project his advisors thought dead and not winnable.
Only Nixon could go to China. Well, only Barack Obama could have pulled off this legislative victory. Behind the stoic, no-drama exterior and megawatt smile exists a disciplined, ruthless, pragmatic president equipped with a flawless mastery of policy detail.
Despite plaintive wails of a coming Armageddon for the nation, the president’s forceful efforts ultimately resulted in the enactment of a recycled package of Republican proposals from the last health care showdown 16 years ago that provide at last a framework for health insurance for most Americans. Republican hypocrisy and penchant for misrepresentations and lies is nothing if not breathtaking.
Unlike our last president, this President can set aside ideology to achieve the art of the possible to improve lives.
After a year of Republicans sputtering unintelligible nonsense, Obama and the People won. Republicans showed their asses like enraged monkeys during the final night’s debate. They used every arrow in their quiver to defeat reform: fear, deception, xenophobia, and racism. They still lost!
Over the course of the next few years, 32 million Americans will finally gain access to health insurance they should have had all along. American health care is the most expensive in the industrialized world and doesn’t cover what it should. Now, finally, we may catch up to the more advanced nations of the industrialized world, which already have universal insurance and costs that remain half of ours.
I still want a public option, though. Our next step must be a single-payer system : )