Kennedy: A Fighter Respected
In the wake of a grim diagnosis, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) left the hospital today and headed for an uncertain future. The cancerous brain tumor found by doctors earlier in the week can be treated but not cured, according to reports. Many sufferers don’t survive a year.
The wave of statements and floor speeches emanating from Capitol Hill yesterday conveyed the sadness and shock of lawmakers who have never known a Senate without a Ted Kennedy. The only senator who has, 90-year-old Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia, wept on the chamber floor, imploring "an all-caring, unlimited God will watch over Ted, and keep Ted here for us and for America. Ted, Ted, my dear friend, I love you and I miss you."
But perhaps even more telling has been the outpouring of shock and sorrow from those across the aisle. Outwardly, Kennedy is viewed by conservatives as a living symbol of "tax and spend" liberalism — a man with the temerity to confront market capitalism via corporate regulations and universal health care.
In reality, he was often the Republicans go-to man when they wanted to broker a bipartisan deal. In the face of liberal objections, for example, it was Kennedy to help push through Bush’s 2002 No Child Left Behind education reforms. More recently, it has been Kennedy to sit down with Republicans and industry to craft a passable mental health coverage bill. (In contrast, House Democrats, led by Kennedy’s son, Patrick, took a the harder liberal line, but produced a bill that has no chance of going anywhere.)
It was for this combination of personal charm and professionalism that lawmakers of all stripes were struggling for words yesterday. "I am so deeply saddened I have lost the words," Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) told The Washington Post.
A few other statements provide further testimony. From the White House:
Ted Kennedy is a man of tremendous courage, remarkable strength, and powerful spirit. Our thoughts are with Senator Kennedy and his family during this difficult period.
From Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (from The New York Times ):
Sen. Kennedy enjoys great respect and admiration on this side of the aisle. He is, indeed, one of the most important figures to ever serve in this body in our history.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) took that a step further, calling Kennedy "clearly the most influential senator in U.S. history" (also from the NYTs).
All eyes now are on Kennedy’s treatment, and how he reacts to it. A tough road lies ahead, but anyone doubting his toughness should note: The AP is reporting that he has plans to compete this weekend in the Fagawi, a sailing race off the coast of Massachusetts.