David Blackburn

Senator Edward Kennedy, 1932 - 2009

Senator Edward Kennedy, 1932 - 2009
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Teddy Kennedy has died aged 77 after a battle with brain cancer. Kennedy was a towering member of the senate for nearly fifty years. Even after the centrist “New Democrats” had abandoned them, Kennedy championed the American Left’s traditional causes, such as healthcare provision, which he described as “the cause of my life”. He was integral to the passage of civil and labour rights legislation, and worked to limit global nuclear proliferation.

In 1980, Kennedy lost the Democrat nomination to incumbent President Jimmy Carter; others might have retired, but the Senator continued to fight inequality up to his death. Explaining his motivation, he told Reuters in 2006: “There’s a lot to do. I think most of all, it’s the injustice that I continue to see and the opportunity to have some impact on it.”

A notoriously heavy drinker, Kennedy was marred by personal controversies throughout his career. The Chappaquiddick incident ended his extremely good chances of securing the Democrat nomination in his pomp – after a night’s partying, a campaign worker, Mary Jo Kopechne, was killed in a car that Kennedy was driving and he failed to report the crash immediately. Equally, Kennedy attracted criticism in this country for his support of Irish republicanism, and by extension the IRA. That characterisation is a gross misrepresentation. There’s no doubt about which side of the debate Kennedy was on, but he condemned violence on both sides throughout the Troubles, and tabled motions in the Senate to encourage an end to violence.

More recently, Kennedy’s public support for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton was decisive in the outcome of the nomination battle. And, characteristically, Kennedy’s pursuit of social justice remained unremitting. Not that he’s enjoyed the dying Kennedy’s presence often this year, but one wonders if President Obama can pass his contentious healthcare bill in its current form without the assistance of the ‘Liberal Lion of the Senate’. 

Love him or loathe him, this man was a colossus; a great orator who had supporters and enemies on both sides of the political divide. For both the length of his service and for what he achieved, Kennedy will be remembered as one of America's greatest political figures.