The last Kennedy icon

by Dr. Ruwan M. Jayatunge

(September 07. Ontario, Sri Lanka Guardian) Edward Moor Kennedy was a leading figure in the United States Senate. He served as a US Senator since 1962 and served under 10 Presidents - from John F Kennedy to Barak Obama. Although he never had a chance to become the President, Ted Kennedy was one of the most influential figures respected by people around the world. He inspired the public through his commitment to social justice. He was a humanist and democratic personality earned respect from all across the globe.

Edward Kennedy was one of the longest-serving member of the United States Senate in American history. In 2006, Time magazine named him as one of America’s “Ten Best Senators”, saying that he had “amassed a titanic record of legislation affecting the lives of virtually every man, woman and child in the country”.

He was the last of the famous Kennedy brothers. In his personal life he was devastated over the death of three of his own brothers. His elder brother Jo Kennedy died in the WW2, John Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in California. His political path was filled with numerous obstacles.

Edward Kennedy made his maiden speech to the Senate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed segregation in public accommodations. It was a huge leap foreword against the racial discrimination in America. Kennedy was a strong supporter of the school reforms and elevation of the education system. His contribution helped to uplift the quality of school education.

He did not betray his conscious when the Vietnam question occurred. He openly questioned the Vietnam War. Edward Kennedy was a visionary and realized the emptiness of the Vietnam was like his brother JFK. America’s involvement in the war in Vietnam, Senator Kennedy called on President Nixon to begin an immediate draw-down of US Forces in that region. In his speech, Senator Kennedy argued that “American youth are too valuable to be sacrificed for a false sense of military pride.” This was one of the unique examples of his political maturity and willingness to co-exist with other Nations despite the political differences.

Kennedy was one of the first in Congress to speak out against going to war with Iraq. He took a gigantic step in September 2002. When the Bush administration was preparing to go to war in Iraq without the support of the international community, Senator Kennedy, in a historic speech at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, was the first to argue that Iraq did not pose the type of threat that justified immediate war. Senator Kennedy argued that America should not rush to war. After a few years the American public realized the true meaning of his words when the Nation was struck by the repercussions of the Iraqi war and the Economic crisis.

Senator Kennedy could understand the contribution made by the Immigrants to the US Economy. In 2006, Senator Kennedy introduced a bill to reform the America’s immigration laws and to bring fairness and justice to immigrant families. He fought for fair immigration reforms.

His life was like a roller-coaster, ups and downs. He faced a bitter impeachment over the accidental death of Mary Jo Kopechne. His 1991 speech at Harvard, Edward Kennedy did something that politicians from our part of the world would not even think of doing. He admitted that he was not a saint and had made human mistakes in the past. Addressing the crowd he stated that -

“I recognize my own shortcomings, the faults and the conduct of my private life, I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them.”

He was a master orator who spoke from his heart. In June 1968 eulogy for Robert F. Kennedy, Edward Moor Kennedy made an outstanding emotional speech.

He said :

My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As an international political icon Edward Kennedy played an important role during the independence of Bangladesh and bring peace to Northern Ireland.

Kennedy strongly supported Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to come to the Democratic stream. After these successful intervention Protestant paramilitaries announced their own cease-fire.

He was a down to earth politician who showed enormous empathy for common people. His exceptional ability as a politician with inspired admiration, respect and devotion flowed beyond the borders of America. Edward Kennedy was best known as one of the most outspoken and effective politicians of our time.