The Note: The Legacy — How Kennedy’s memory could impact fate of final quest

By Caitlin Taylor

Aug 27, 2009 8:14am

By RICK KLEIN What would Teddy do? That depends on which lessons one might draw from the life and career of Sen. Ted Kennedy, here in this brief period where his passing has allowed a rare moment of reflection in the debate he never saw come to a close. There’s Kennedy the deal-maker, the one whom Republicans are pining for now, and who always wished he’d taken a half-measure on universal health coverage back when he had that fleeting chance. And there’s Kennedy the true-believer, the man whom liberals are, well, lionizing as they fight to preserve a health care reform bill they think Kennedy himself would have proudly championed. It’s these aspects of the towering Kennedy legacy — neither less true than the other — that now shape the health care debate. As that sorts itself out, three days of services and ceremonies start Thursday. After a noon ET private family Mass, the motorcade carrying the senator’s remains will leave the Kennedy compound around 1 pm ET. In Boston, it will pass some landmarks of his life — through the North End, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and past Faneuil Hall and the State House — before arriving at the John F. Kennedy Library around 4 pm. Friday is for public viewing an evening memorial service. President Obama will speak at the funeral Saturday in Boston, before Kennedy reaches his final resting place, alongside his brothers at Arlington National Cemetery.  In remembering a life and a legacy, that unfinished piece looms large: “Edward M. Kennedy filled two seemingly contradictory roles during his years in the Senate: He was known as the chamber’s most liberal member and as the Democrat with an uncanny ability to reach across to conservative Republicans and reach compromises,” Michael Kranish and Lisa Wangsness report in The Boston Globe. “The question is whether Kennedy’s death paradoxically might shift power farther to the left as other Democrats seek to solidify their base.” “The death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy has quickly become a rallying point for Democratic advocates of a broad health care overhaul, a signature Kennedy issue that became mired in partisanship while he fought his illness away from the Capitol,” Carl Hulse and Katharine Q. Seelye report in The New York Times.  “It seemed unlikely that Republicans would suddenly soften their firm opposition in the aftermath of Mr. Kennedy’s death or that Democrats would relent on their push for substantial change, especially for a government-run insurance plan, which Mr. Kennedy endorsed.” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to ABC’s Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America” Thursday: “I would hope that his example of working together, coming together in the spirit of compromise, for the sake and the good of the American people, would have some effect.” Can it be both of these things? “Some lawmakers said Tuesday the current stalemate is the result of Kennedy’s absence for the past few, crucial months. Some hope to rescue the embattled legislation as his legacy,” the AP’s Laurie Kellman reports.  The health care debate is missing a key player, but has a key source of inspiration. “You’ve heard of ‘win one for the Gipper’? There is going to be an atmosphere of ‘win one for Teddy,’ ” Ralph G. Neas, the CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care, told ABC’s Teddy Davis.  Davis reports: “Democratic officials hope that invoking Kennedy’s passion for the issue will counter slippage in support for health care reform. . . . To infuse Kennedy into the health-care debate, Democrats are planning to affix the former senator’s name to the health-care legislation that emerges from Congress.” Politico’s Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin: “Kennedy’s death will frame the central struggle of Obama’s young presidency, the charge to drive health care legislation through the Senate. The loss of his vote and his deal-making prowess are a profound blow to the bill’s prospects, but his allies hope his memory will carry it through.”  Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.: “If temperatures can cool, maybe Teddy’s passing will remind people that we’re there to get a job done.”  “Will Sen. Edward Kennedy’s death be the catalyst for finally achieving what he called the cause of his life, health care for all?” Jill Lawrence writes for Politics Daily. “There are some differences even Kennedy wouldn’t have been able to bridge. At this juncture, with a strong ally in the White House and Democratic majorities in Congress, maybe he wouldn’t have been inclined to.”  No one will pick up this mantle: “Throughout, there never has been a politician who brought more of that rare combination of commitment, passion and exuberance to the profession; he loved politics and understood better than anyone that it’s a human business,” Bloomberg’s Al Hunt recalls. “That’s why he was the best.”  “The loss of Sen. Ted Kennedy to brain cancer has produced an outpouring of praise and affection from across the political spectrum — a reaction that in its own way only raises a profound question: Where have all the deal makers like him gone?” Gerald F. Seib writes in his Wall Street Journal column.  Regarding the missteps, “He did more than outlive them — he made up for them. Teddy Kennedy constantly improved. Teddy Kennedy constantly got better,” Vice President Joe Biden told ABC’s Chris Cuomo, on “Good Morning America” Thursday. “He was one hell of a man.” What might be critical, depending on the deal that’s cut: “There is no Democrat — not even President Obama — who commands so much automatic respect on the party’s left,” Doyle MacManus writes for the Los Angeles Times.   ”The biggest impact of Kennedy’s death . . . could be on his fellow Democrats who are divided over whether to create a public option to compete with private insurance, expand regional health insurance cooperatives, resist both because of concerns about spending and the impact on the private sector or hold out for a single-payer system that Obama himself doesn’t support,” McClatchy’s David Lightman and Margaret Talev write.  Maybe getting through this period of Kennedy nostalgia during recess is the best timing Republicans could imagine. “When the veteran lawmaker died Tuesday night of brain cancer, the cause he long championed stood at a dangerous crossroads,” The Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray reports. “With Congress’s August recess nearing its end, the window is closing for opponents of a health-care overhaul to further undercut its public support before lawmakers resume working on the bill. Meanwhile, Kennedy’s memorial services and burial are likely to draw more public attention to his political career, and to the issues he held dear — including universal health insurance, which he once called ‘the cause of my life.’ “  Then there’s math: “Democrats quickly tried to turn the death of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy into a new spur for their stalled health-care overhaul effort. But the liberal icon’s passing could as well hobble the campaign, by depriving the majority party of a key vote at a critical juncture in the debate,” Neil King Jr. and Jonathan Weisman write in The Wall Street Journal.  When you have majorities like these, sometimes you get to make your own math. “Governor Deval L. Patrick, breaking his silence on the future of Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat, yesterday embraced Kennedy’s request that the governor be given the power to appoint someone to the seat until voters can choose a permanent successor in a special election,” Frank Phillips reports in The Boston Globe. “Patrick’s public statements add to growing momentum for Kennedy’s plea, which he made last week in a poignant letter to the governor and legislative leaders.” “I’d like the Legislature to take up the bill quickly and get it to my desk and I will sign it,” Patrick told the Globe. On succession: “The race in the heavily Democratic state will be a five-month sprint that may pit some of the Bay State’s most prominent politicians and political families against each other.”  ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, on “Good Morning America” Thursday: “Vicki Kennedy has really ruled herself out.” Former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, D-Mass., “hasn’t completely ruled out going for this seat.” The last Kennedy… Per ABC’s Troy McMullen: “The death of Edward Kennedy late Tuesday after a yearlong struggle with brain cancer, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died two weeks earlier after suffering a series of strokes in recent years, leaves just one remaining child born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy: Jean Kennedy Smith. The 81-year-old former ambassador to Ireland has long maintained a much lower profile than some other members of the extended Kennedy family. She skipped the funeral mass for her sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver to stay with her ailing brother, and has been seen in public very little in recent years.”  Kind of a ridiculous day to try to break through with this maneuver: “Gov. Mark Sanford said Wednesday he won’t be ‘railroaded’ out of office, rejecting the latest request that he resign. Sanford spoke after Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer became the highest ranking Republican to ask the embattled GOP governor to quit,” The State’s Gina Smith and John O’Connor report.  Final cease-fire in the card-check wars? “We have too many other things on our plate,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, per Jennifer Robison of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  This sound familiar? “Organizers of an Anchorage event that has been billing Sarah Palin for weeks as a star speaker were left scrambling Wednesday after learning that the former governor won’t be there for tonight’s event and claims to have never been asked,” Sean Cockerham and Erika Bolstad write for The Anchorage Daily News. “It would be at least the fourth time in recent months that an anticipated Palin speech has fallen through after Palin and her camp disputed they had ever confirmed it.”  “This is the first we have ever heard of a speech,” said Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton.
The Kicker: “The truth is he had expressed to his family that he did want to go, he did want to go to Heaven. . . . There was a certain peace there that was absolutely beautiful.  It’s what life is all about and you would envy that kind of peace.” — Rev. Patrick Tarrant, to ABC affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston, on Sen. Kennedy’s final moments at his bedside.  
“We will never see the likes of him again.” — Vice President Joe Biden, tearing up in remembrance. 
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