Sen. Edward Kennedy’s death late Tuesday closes a generational era in American political history, and his legislative legacy will continue having an impact in the role of government across a broad spectrum of policies and programs impacting millions of people.
Kennedy, the last survivor of four Kennedy sons who were reared with the expectation of political leadership, was diagnosed with brain cancer in May 2008, and his survival had been considered limited since.
Elected in 1962 to succeed his brother, President John F. Kennedy, as a senator from Massachusetts, Kennedy rose to a position of eminence in the Senate and as an icon of the Democratic Party’s liberalism born in the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt.
Kennedy’s personal indiscretions and moral lapses – particularly the never fully explained auto accident on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969 that killed a young political associate, Mary Jo Kopechne – doomed his chances of becoming president.
He was widely despised in Mississippi as a symbol of liberal meddling for desegregation and as an activist for big government’s social programs.
Nevertheless, Kennedy’s Senate record includes policies and programs he championed that have deeply and beneficially impacted many Mississippians:
- State Children’s Health Insurance Programs known as CHIP in our state. About 67,000 Mississippi children otherwise without health care insurance are covered by CHIP, which provides private-sector care from birth through age 18.
- No Child Left Behind, the first federal education reform and comprehensive accountability program, helped strengthen the education reform movement and better establish national standards of expectation and achievement.
- Americans with Disabilities Act – the ADA – outlaws discrimination against the disabled and helps guarantee full physical public access.
- Title IX outlaws discrimination and provision of programs in education based on gender. The signal impact of Title IX is its sea change effect on high school and collegiate athletics, where women’s participation has soared in every state, including Mississippi.
His support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 pushed the South, with great resistance, to move past vestiges of the Civil War and into compliance with the Constitution.
He knew better than many other senators the art and necessity of meaningful compromise and bipartisanship, acknowledged by many of his strongest peers across the aisle. He was seen as a man of personal compassion and deep empathy.
While his personal life is scarred by his mistakes, his legislative record is a benchmark in the history of the Senate in which he served for almost 47 years.
NEMS Daily Journal