Legacy of the 'Lion of the Senate' will live on

'Ted' Kennedy was known as a tireless broker of bipartisan compromise.

Kennedy 248.88 (photo credit: )
Kennedy 248.88
(photo credit: )
The new generation of press and political operatives who swept into Washington with the Obama administration may only remember the "Lion of the Senate" as the lone, bent figure shuffling through the Capitol's marble halls. Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy's (D-Massachusetts) astounding political achievements, however - and his baritone Massachusetts inflections - will continue to resound in the health care debate and countless other domestic issues now raging in the US. Though absent from the Senate in body in recent months, that voice was still present in private conversations with lawmaker's until days before Kennedy, 77, succumbed to a malignant brain tumor Tuesday night at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Americans can expect the phrase "I promised Teddy" to ring from the lips of their leaders as the future of health care and issues other issues are determined. Perhaps the Senate's greatest champion of liberal causes, Kennedy's larger than life image made him a natural target for Republican politicians and fundraisers. But frontline workers of tumultuous congressional politics will remember Kennedy as a tireless broker of bipartisan compromise. Kennedy became the youngest member of the Senate at just 30 years of age when he won an election to fill the vacated seat of his older brother John F. Kennedy Jr., who was elected president. Kennedy chose a different path than either of his brothers, John and Robert, becoming a master tactician of the minute mechanisms of the Senate. Vice President Joseph Biden once called Kennedy "the best strategist in the Senate." Just three years after his election Kennedy led the Immigration and National Act through the Senate and also lent his weight to legislation that created the National Teachers Corps. After his son, Edward, had a leg amputated due to bone cancer in 1973, Kennedy dedicated himself to the cause of health care reform and began to lay that groundwork that remains essential to the debate today. In pushing the Civil Rights Act of 1991 that expanded employee rights against discrimination, Kennedy reached so far into the Republican side of the aisle he was harshly criticized by members of his own party. Following the Republican revolution of 1994, Kennedy defined his role as a champion for liberal causes by rallying his colleagues to fight the Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America." Only parts of the Republican proposals were passed by the Congress, due, in part, to Kennedy's leadership among Democrats. Despite lingering bitterness of president George W. Bush's controversial electoral victory in 2000, Kennedy became a key ally of Bush, helping him pass the "No Child Left Behind Act" in 2002, and forcing higher standards on teachers despite the protest of unions. In 2001 Kennedy supported Bush's invasion into Taliban- occupied Afghanistan but on October 2002 he was one of 23 Democrats who voted against the Iraq war resolutions. Kennedy's career was remarkable in its length of 47 years, which was only exceeded by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-West Virginia), whose health is also failing, and former senator Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina). Despite the magic of Camelot and life in the Senate, known as the world's most exclusive club, Kennedys' life was haunted by tragedy and moral shortcomings. His brothers died unnaturally. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. was killed in 1944 on a World War II bombing mission. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated while campaigning for president in 1968. On June 19, 1964, after casting votes on a civil rights bill, Kennedy was aboard a plane that crashed killing an aide. Three of the senator's vertebrae were cracked in the accident, and he walked with a cane for the rest of his life. Kennedy's lifestyle at times also cast a shadow over his political career. He was expelled for Harvard for cheating on a Spanish exam, and his nephew was accused of raping a girl outside a party he had arranged. His famed playboy lifestyle came to a head in 1969 when Kennedy left a party and drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island drowning the woman in the seat next to him. His failure to inform the police until hours later, after he had already consulted lawyers and political operatives, as well as speculation that alcohol was involved, was a major part of his defeat in the 1980 Democratic presidential primaries, and also contributed to the loss of his Senate leadership post in 1971. Even today more than one Capitol Hill watering hole have photos of the senator on their walls as testament to his ability to party. "Let the good times roll" reads the inscription below one such photo. The shock of Kennedy's diagnoses of a malignant brain tumor swept through the Capitol on May 20, 2008, and usual Senate proceedings ground to a halt as senators from both parties emerged from prayer meetings with tear-stained faces for the man they dubbed the "patriarch" of their institution. Kennedy did not return to the chamber until June 9, 2008, when he arrived to break a filibuster on legislation that reversed a 10.6 percent pay-cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients. He was ushered to the chamber by his son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy(D-Massachusetts), and greeted by then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) Upon his appearance, cheers emanated from the gallery, a practice usually forbidden within the chamber. Kennedy's seemed to pass his family's political legacy onto Obama in the winter of 2008 when he announced his support for Obama and a "new generation of leadership." It was that endorsement in part that boosted Obama toward wins across the nation in the Super Tuesday primaries. Obama was vacationing at Martha's Vineyard, near the Kennedy's home, when the senator died.