By William Rivers Pitt, for Truthout:
"For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
- Sen. Edward M. Kennedy
"The nation awoke on Wednesday morning to the news that Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts had passed away in the night, in his bed, with his family by his side. The television news networks overflowed with metaphors for the moment - the Liberal Lion, the Last Brother, the End of an Era, the Last Chapter - but it was a man who was dead. Just a man, one we had come to know intimately during his half-century of service, triumph, heartbreak, disgrace and diligence.
"Just a man whose brother Joe volunteered to fly an experimental weapons platform in 1944 and was killed when the plane abruptly exploded; just a man whose brother John was cut down by an assassin's bullet in Dallas; just a man whose brother Robert died on a dirty kitchen floor in California, victim of another assassin. Just a man who narrowly escaped death when his own plane crashed, breaking his back and maiming him forever. Just a man whose family was visited with more tragedy than any one man should have to bear.
"And, yes, just a man who made tremendous mistakes, who drank too much, who partied too hard, whose irresponsibility took the life of a young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne and spawned a generation of insults, judgments and bumper stickers that read, 'My gun has killed less people than Ted Kennedy's car.' The Chappaquiddick incident, as it came to be known, nearly annihilated Kennedy's political career, and was surely the central reason why his attempts to win the presidency all ended in failure.
"Would we as a nation have been better off if Kennedy's political career had been derailed by his own shortcomings and tremendous mistakes? There are some who will surely say this is so, and they have every right to that opinion. Without Ted Kennedy in the Senate, however, the nation may well have never seen the passage of bills like the Immigration and Nationality Act, the National Cancer Act, the COBRA Act, the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Ryan White AIDS Care Act, the Civil Rights Act (1991), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Mental Health Parity Act, the State Children's Health Insurance Program, and the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, all of which and more he championed during his long service in the Senate. Kennedy sponsored more than 2,000 pieces of legislation in his time, and it can honestly and truly be said that his efforts have served more people than any five presidents who came and went under his watchful Irish eyes.
" 'The fact that his tangible accomplishments transcended his mythic role in the Kennedy drama," wrote The Boston Globe on Wednesday, 'attests to the vast extent of his legislative impact. In each of four areas, he dominated legislative politics for more than four decades, spanning ten presidencies, and played a large role in transforming the government's relationship to the people. 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. And by the time his life ended yesterday, surrounded by loved ones in a gentle scene that contrasted sharply with the violent deaths of his brothers, Ted Kennedy had built a nuts-and-bolts legacy to stand beside that of his presidential brother as a figure of hope and his senatorial brother as a figure of compassion.'
"Teddy was just a man, but ended his life as something far more than that. Teddy, now gone from us, has become an idea, a bulwark, a standard and a clarion call to service and national duty. He will no longer be in the Senate working for us, and it is impossible to believe someone will step forward to stand in his place. He was just a man, and he has finally paid that death we all owe in the end, so the rest is up to us all. The dream he spoke of can indeed end, and surely will, if we let it. He guarded it, tended it and enriched it for so long, but that is over. It is up to us now, just as he would want it to be."