Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy Overcame His Advantages, And Sins, And Became An Exemplary Public Official

I dislike nepotism and inherited wealth, so Edward M. Kennedy -- whose launch as a United States Senator (at 30, three years after law school graduation) relied on his brothers' wake, and whose entire life was privileged as heir to a sketchy fortune --brought substantial baggage to his career as an elected official, from my perspective. Ted Kennedy's serial personal failings were too substantial to be obscured by wealth and power.

Despite those handicaps, Ted Kennedy's death concludes the most important Senate service of a half-century. An ardent liberal, Kennedy nonetheless embodied friendship-based bipartisanship and effective practicality even as Congress coarsened and became polarized.

Kennedy championed many great causes -- health care, minimum wage, immigration, education, civil rights -- but I believe his most consequential and enduring accomplishment denied Robert Bork, an unhinged ideologue, confirmation as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The unexpected ferocity and success of the Kennedy-led opposition to Bork's nomination likely disinclined President George H.W. Bush to nominate a hard-core conservative three years later. Instead of Robert Bork and a clone, the Supreme Court seated Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. For that accomplishment alone, Americans should celebrate the considerable contributions of "the Lion of the Senate," Edward M. Kennedy.

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