By Hannah Hayes
Public service is a Kennedy family value, yet the influence and financial gain they have enjoyed, and our eagerness to skate over parts of their stories, leaves an unsettling picture about the ways things work in Washington. The Kennedys seem able to balance the toll and the sacrifices in their long and notable history with this country, and each generation comes out on the side of doing more. Sadly, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s passing at the height of the health care debate may not bode well for the passage of the kind of humanitarian legislation most Americans have been hoping for since the days of Teddy’s dad.
Despite or given his personal failings, the senator had the ability to step outside of Camelot and recognize rich and poor, upper class and second class, man’s world and women’s world. He has helped those not as favored as the Kennedys. As Teddy himself pointed out, his family was able to afford health care for his father’s seven years of intensive need after a stroke. How many ordinary families have been devastated by the financial realities of paying more for health care than any other country?
Might Teddy be seen as Jean Valjean, Victor Hugo’s symbol of redemption in Les Misérables? In the eyes of those who favor a just society that provides the tools for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, in his later years Teddy worked for many important causes.
An infusion of optimism, as health care reform would provide, will serve us well during this recession. It’s hard to imagine a part of the nation’s constitutionally stated “right to life” that could be more basic than the right to those very things that make our lives possible. Teddy’s work on health care is now passed on to a divided and cynical society that dumps suspicion on motive. How caring for our citizenry could give my debate partner the “heebie-jeebies” is beyond me.
Uncharacteristically for this column, Kelly’s last rebuttal (Both Sides Now, Aug. 26) must be challenged. “Medical studies show” is like asking the accused to be treated as his own expert witness. What “reputable economic studies”? Who has said anything about eliminating private insurance? And how does my desire for alternatives have anything to do with dictating the care you may choose? To say “ban any food they dislike” is as bad as those who distorted end-of-life counseling into death squads for seniors. Kelly’s constant assertion that modern agriculture has eliminated poverty is hardly amusing to America’s struggling small farmers and that it’s provided “better nutrition” reads quite tragically to those suffering from the new American epidemic of diabetes.
Unsupported assertions made by the extreme right must not become successful in manipulating the public mood. So, like the Kennedy family does during hard days, it’s time to close ranks around universal health care.
By Kelly Weist
My mother remembers the day JFK was assassinated. Pretty much everyone her age does. She was sitting in class in high school, and when they announced it over the intercom, everyone wept. She also remembers where she was when she heard that Bobby Kennedy had been killed. She’s never been a leftist, or even really liberal, but Camelot, for her and many others, was very real.
Well, all but Teddy. Many of the Camelot believers had a hard time believing in Teddy. The younger, lumpier version of John and Bobby, Teddy brought up the rear. He didn’t seem to have the same grace or magic of the others, but he definitely benefited from the Kennedy Machine.
Sen. Ted Kennedy lived long enough to see an administration that he (and many others) had heralded as the new Camelot. He didn’t live long enough to see a leftist paradise come to life.
Ted Kennedy not only leaves a personal legacy of a liberalism that was significantly further left than that of his elder brother, but of an era of American aristocracy which shaped the Democrat Party, and American culture, for decades. All of Joe Kennedy’s considerable fortune and influence went toward electing a son president. He succeeded with JFK, but that was cut short with an assassin’s bullet. His second son tried as well, but was also assassinated. Teddy challenged Jimmy Carter in 1980, his shot at the presidency, but could only wound Carter.
However, as a senator, Ted changed the legislative and legal landscape of this country as much as his brothers changed our culture. A consistent leftist, Ted was also a pragmatic politician, understanding better than many the obscurities of congressional procedures. Like most liberals, his goals were power and control — more control for the government, more power for the Democrats. The coming health reform package is a perfect example. The government controls all economic and social decisions, and the elite control the government.
This is the true legacy of the Kennedys. All that they do is based on the idea that they are the true aristocracy, blessed by God and charged with the well-being of all of us. Through government and “public service,” they give back by taking control for themselves. Their personal lives show this clearly, from Ted skipping out on Mary Jo Kopechne in the river, to William being unable to resist the drunken girls at his Georgetown parties. Anyone else in this country would have had to pay dearly for pranks like these. Even Paris Hilton had to go to jail.
The one thing I can say about Ted was that he wasn’t a hypocrite. He pursued the leftist agenda and was very open about it. He pushed for whatever he could get from the legislative process, which was a lot, and he never varied from his path.
Why does the right choose to take “public service” and turn it into a negative? Here’s a partial look at the Kennedy family legacy of service to society and government.
Robert Sargent Shriver III is a Santa Monica, Calif., city council member. Maria Owings Shriver is first lady of California. Timothy Perry Shriver is chair of the Special Olympics. Mark Kennedy Shriver is a former delegate in the Maryland General Assembly. Anthony Paul Kennedy Shriver is an activist for mental retardation and founded Best Buddies International. Kathleen Hartington Kennedy is former lieutenant governor of Maryland. Joseph Patrick Kennedy II is a former U.S. representative from Massachusetts and founder of Citizens Energy Corp., providing discounted heating oil to low-income families. Robert Francis Kennedy Jr. is an environmentalist best known for his successful litigations in the prevention of water pollution. Michael LeMoyne Kennedy was the head of his brother Joseph’s nonprofit organization. And, Patrick Joseph Kennedy II is a U.S. representative from Rhode Island.
These people asked what they could do for their country. Kelly seems to have a problem with that.
It’s always really easy to blast “right-wing” nuts for their ideas and claim there is no evidence to support their assertions. Unfortunately, these columns do not allow for extensive citation, but I do spend a great deal of time researching our issues, and not just on MoveOn.org, as Hannah does. The Heritage Foundation has done a great deal of good work on the health care issue and economic issues, including those surrounding poverty, and I highly recommend their papers. The Congressional Budget Office is the source for much of the criticism of the House health reform bill. The CBO has estimated that 55 million Americans will lose their private insurance and be forced onto the “public option” based on the current legislation. Other economic foundations estimate much higher numbers.
Currently, the Senate is writing its version, and no one has seen it. The CBO hasn’t scored it yet, because even it hasn’t seen it.
Yelling lies doesn’t make them any better. There is plenty of real economic information about the health care legislation out there. Find out for yourself.
Attorney and political activist Kelly Weist has served on the board of directors of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women and is the co-founder of Mountain Republican Women. She is an adjunct professor of political science at Metropolitan State College of Denver.
Hannah B. Hayes is a small-business owner and activist with Evergreen Peace. A recent graduate of Leadership Evergreen with a master’s degree in education, Hayes has remained active in this community through her writing and organizing for 35 years.