The Liberal Lion of the Senate

by Editorial

Ted Kennedy, 1932-2009

By John Flannery 


Senator Kennedy with his wife Victoria at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors. (Photo by Tony Powell)

Senator Kennedy with his wife Victoria at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors. (Photo by Tony Powell)

He was a man with the frailties of any man.  He lived the Irish curse, as Yeats aptly described it, “to dream things the world has never seen.” Because he dreamed these things, and didn’t know better, he fought to make them real, and, in the bargain, made a difference for the better.  

He was the younger brother in a trinity of vigor, passion and fight for what these brothers thought was the public’s right and the nation’s need.  

But even before this youngest brother became the family elder, he soldiered with anyone who could advance his dream of what this nation could be.  

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy did more for this nation on the issue of options for health care because of their shared concern that we are all measured by how we treat our own.  

It is ironic that the fight that consumed him most, health care, and that earned him so many legislative victories and salved the pain of so many Americans should be the focus of the nation at his passing.  

The best of us cannot be replaced or duplicated. Ted is a special example of this truth. It is the beauty of our God-given humanity that we have a soulful identity.  

The sin in this life is to shelter and conceal who we are, to lose by indifference what we have to give, to fail to say or do what we can for our families and our community. Christ said he would spew forth from his mouth the tepid. Of course, Ted was anything but.  

It is our destiny to participate in the life and struggle of our time. If one fails this calling, one fails life. By this standard, Ted lived his life to the fullest.  

I was honored to know Ted. When he spoke at the Democratic Convention in Denver last summer, it must have been obvious to those around me that I was in a reverie watching him, because those behind me placed their comforting hands on my shoulders at one point.  

Of course, we were as a group joined as one, transfixed on Ted even having the strength to stand there. I found it exhilarating and terribly sad at the same time. He gave such a full throated speech and his doctors told him he should not be speaking at all.  

In the shadows, just out of the spotlight to his left, his wife Victoria Reggie mouthed the words of his text like she could lift the burden from him. It was affectionate and distressing at the same time. Of course, it was sweet too.  

In his 1980 campaign for president, I spent the most time with him in the New York primary (which we won) and he was just great as a candidate and a person.  

When I ran for congress in 1984, he promised to help, and he did. His niece Kathleen had her mom open up Hickory Hill for a reception during my primary fight; they said they’d never done so for a non-family member before. I asked him what should I say if the press made something of it, in conservative Virginia. He would say: “John  and I don’t agree on anything, but I think he should be your next congressman.”  

Whenever you saw him, he’d take time to talk and joke. When I went to the House to work on several Hill investigations in 1996, I worked with his son Patrick, and Ted would often be around. It’s really true, some people are so special, there will never be another.  

Ted was an original and a warrior for causes he shouted in a contrasting field of timid whisperers.  

Unbowed by pain and suffering in the end, he struggled to make his contribution to the nation even from his sick bed, and now he is gone.  

But his cause endures because of his example, the hope he inspired, and an irish dream that we could have things that the world has never seen.

May he rest in peace.

John Flannery, a longtime friend of Ted Kennedy’s, is an author, attorney and Virginia state party  activist. A regular guest on CNN’s Inside Politics, he lives in Leesburg, VA. 

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