Lion of the Senate

We mourn the passing of Sen. Edward Kennedy today not only for his definitive role in a significant slice of Americana, but also for his role a true progressive leader. He was flawed, for sure, but his conviction for causes dear to progressives: affordable housing, minimum wage increases, and health care reform to name a few, is something that now appears increasingly unparalleled.

So while we experience the (deserved) deluge of media coverage of his life and times, I’d like to point to a particularly poignant account provided by Rooflines blogger Bobbi Murray, who examines Sen. Kennedy’s legislative prowess, his and his family’s special bond with Irish-Americans, and that old literary narrative of fighting adversity, despite (or perhaps in spite of) his privileged background.

Kennedy was actually one of the last remaining statesmen in the Senate who had a real interest in reaching across the aisle. But even more important, Murray’s piece points to something that is increasingly lacking in government: having personal, even sentimental ties with elected officials at the federal level. The way the Kennedy dynasty resonates with so many Americans — good or bad —is something that is fading fast in American politics.

It was always personal with Kennedy, whose own personal life meshed seamlessly with politics — both the triumphs and the tragedies; the scandals and the success. I heard in one of myriad tributes today that the so-called Liberal Lion’s battle for health care reform was rooted in his son’s own battle with cancer. And of course, following the Senator’s own diagnosis with a malignant brain tumor in May 2008, his cause became all the more personal.

Murray also shrewdly chose a video clip of Kennedy on the Senate floor in early 2007, lambasting Republicans for clotting movement on a minimum wage bill. The clip offers only a small taste of what this Senator offered, but it nonetheless illustrates what kind of voice no longer speaks for us on Capitol Hill.

Matthew Brian Hersh served as senior editor at Shelterforce from March 2008 to October 2012. He studied English at Rutgers University and has spent his professional career in journalism, policy, and politics.



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