Until his passing overnight, Ted Kennedy had been a US Senator from Massachusetts as long as I've been alive. In fact, he was sworn in for the first of his nine terms on the day I was born -- Nov. 7, 1962. For progressives, fighting the good fight will be a little bit harder without him.
One of the striking things about Kennedy is the way his office handled constituent services. I'd heard many tales before, and today on NPR every caller told a story of how they'd met the senator or called his office or worked for a cause and were surprised and gratified that he personally called back or that he remembered someone's name or that he sent a personal thank-you note.
Of course, the events of July 18, 1969, in Edgartown, Massachusetts, cannot, and should not, be dismissed. Kennedy left his overturned car in the tidal channel that separates Chappaquiddick Island from the mainland of Martha's Vineyard after he drove the vehicle off the wooden bridge that connects the two. Inside was 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, who had worked on Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign, and Kennedy later said he dove down "seven or eight times" to rescue her and then went back to the site of the party the two had left, returning with two other men, and the three of them again attempted to free Kopechne. Kennedy, however, did not notify authorities until the next day.
Questions about Chappaquiddick dogged Kennedy for years -- and rightfully so -- and it seems likely that his inability to explain clearly exactly what had happened, his apparent panic and irrational behavior in response to a stressful incident and his escape with a two-month suspended sentence -- attributed to his illustrious last name -- doomed any chance he ever had of being president.
However, what do we want of those who fail morally, especially in the spotlight of fame, except for them to commit to being better people and to do their best from here on? Kennedy did rise up and fought for issues that matter to average Americans, especially in the areas of poverty, education and health care. Like FDR, he leveled the playing field for those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder despite the fact that he hailed from the uppermost class. Kennedy's resources left him beholden to no one but his principles.
Liberals are now without their torch carrier, and so the way forward for us is now a little darker and a little more difficult.