Ted Kennedy's Death Leaves Void, Lasting Legacy

Sen. Edward Kennedy was the last link to Camelot.

Aug. 29, 2009 -- With the death of Ted Kennedy, the last link to Camelot and the end of what many consider to be the greatest American political dynasty has come to an end.

And they don't see any other political family attaining the charismatic power and the political legacy that the Kennedy name has come to mean over the last 50 years.

"Ted's passing is certainly the end of an era," said Thomas Maier, the author of book "The Kennedy's: America's Emerald Kings."

"He was part of a very special family," Maier said. "It was just a remarkable group of people who had great talents and found themselves in a very special place in history... And so with his death, that dynasty has come to an end."

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After more than four decades in the Senate, to which he was first elected in 1962 at the age of 30, political science experts say that it's unlikely anyone will be able to sustain the family's name to the degree Kennedy did.

"He was the baby of the family and he was always a natural extension of the type of ambitions and idealism that the Kennedy's had," said Maier of Kennedy, who was the ninth child born to Joe and Rose Kennedy in 1932.

Tom Whalen, a professor of politics at Boston University, is skeptical that anyone could fill the void left in Kennedy's wake.

"He was the last link to Camelot," said Whalen. "His death will likely mean the end of the Kennedy line in politics for the immediate future. I don't see anyone picking up the torch."

According to Whalen, Kennedy's death and the end of the Kennedy dynasty could mean the end of political lineages in the nation altogether.

"Frankly, we might be moving into a new era in American politics where people have grown tired of the dynasties," said Whalen.

The George W. Bush administration, says Whalen, made Americans wary of "automatically voting for someone just because they have a familiar brand name in politics."

"I think the state of the electorate has changed, people are a bit more cynical about dynasties like the Kennedy's especially since the Bush years," said Whalen.

"They realize now that just because someone's father was a great politician doesn't necessary mean their son or daughter will be the same," said Whalen.

Kennedy vs Bush Dynasties

Will Swift, the author of the 2008 book "The Kennedy's Amidst the Gathering Storm," said that he considers there to have been four great, political dynasties over the past 200 years: the Adams, the Roosevelts, the Kennedys and the Bushes. None of them, he says, can compare to the Kennedys.

A family like the Bush's is unlikely to meet the expectations of a true dynasty set forth by the Kennedys, according to Allan Lichtman, an American history professor at American University in Washington, D.C.

"The Bush family won't become the next Kennedy family because the last administration has been so discredited," said Lichtman. "I don't think 20 or 30 years from now we'll remember the Bush administration as the second coming of Camelot."

"There were so many what ifs about the Kennedys and no what ifs about the Bush's," said Lichtman. "Nor does there seem to be another generation of Bush's ready to take on important political roles."

While the Kennedy chapter in American history may now be closed, the legacy of their legislative accomplishments will likely live on in generations to come.

"The Kennedy's lasting legacy has to do with the great dream of opportunity," said Maier. "They were the personification of the American dream and the sense of freedom."

"Ted Kennedy helped change America by literally providing the opportunity for people of all races and colors to come to this country in a way that had not been allowed before," said Maier.

Ted Kennedy's unrelenting support of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which he sponsored, helped change America in a way that will not soon be forgotten, said Maier.

"It really transformed America," Maier said. "The impact of that alone changed America; it's remarkable."

The Kennedy clan's dedication to public service – from immigration legislation to health care reform, which dominated Ted Kennedy's final years – the family's impact on America won't soon be forgotten.

"The Kennedys, with their great idealism and their great tragedies, really put an exclamation point on the sacrifice that families make for public service," said Maier. "They really successfully helped change America for the better."

Swift says that Ted Kennedy had a "titanic effect on the lives of every single American."

"On the political side, he's done so much," said Swift, "from health care, to civil rights to many things in foreign affairs."

But Swift says even the surviving members of Kennedy's family are unlikely to be able to match what Ted accomplished.

"It's tremendous the way that the Kennedy grandchildren are giving to the society but it doesn't hit the top of the radar because it's not politics, which is what people most readily associate with the Kennedys," he said.

Swift simply says that the charismatic nature of the Kennedy family will make them tough to follow for future generations of politicians.

"If the question comes up how likely is it that we'll have another political dynasty in our lifetime, I'd say it's likely," said Swift. "But will it have the mystique and fascination that the Kennedy's did? That part will never be matched."