“True Compass”

I’ve been doing some reading this fall and it’s time to catch up on some of the book reviews.  One of the best books I’ve finished recently was Ted Kennedy’s memoir “True Compass.”  Published by Twelve as part of the Hachette Book Group, the late Senator dictated the book following his diagnosis of a terminal brain tumor.  He had kept meticulous records and notes throughout his life and career which provided a rich trove of documentation for the book.

It was a fascinating read even though much of the lore of the Kennedy clan is well known.  Reading it from Ted’s perspective was different from that of other Kennedys due to his status as the youngest sibling.  His reminiscing of brothers Jack and Bobby’s assassinations and how his mishandling of his grief led to the Chappaquiddick accident was riveting.  His reflections on countless days sailing off Cape Cod reminded me how much I enjoyed sailing in my younger days.  Of course I didn’t have beautiful yachts on which to sail.  Mine was a Sunfish.  What’s the difference, it’s only a matter of feet after all…

Ted also takes us through his days as a youth in a highly competitive and large family.  I could relate to some of that as I am one of seven siblings.  Growing up already famous and having your every move scrutinized is something few of us can relate with and so this too was interesting.  Poor Teddy grew up being moved from school to school as the family moved from home to home through the seasons.  He finally blossomed in college and his tales of campaigning for his brothers is quite fascinating.  I can’t imagine riding rodeo or doing a ski jump for votes for someone else would have been something I’d have done for anyone.  Ted did.

The Lion of the Senate had a very distinguished career and he actually outdid his presidential brother.  His legislative legacy will outlive him by decades if not centuries.  He never lost his passion to help working people and he never lost his touch with them.  Ted Kennedy was one of my heroes and I very much enjoyed his memories.

How Blue Dogs Killed Health Care Reform

The death of Ted Kennedy was also the death knell for real, significant health care reform.  Talking points now use the term “health insurance reform” instead of “health care reform.”  Real reform died when Sen. Baucus disallowed any consideration of single payer.  Regardless of the fact most Americans support single payer the Administration and Congress began in a weak position from which they’ve been forced to retreat by corporate funded interest groups.

This is nothing new.  The same fear mongering tactics were used against Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and every other significant progressive legislation of the last sixty years.  The insurance industry fought health care reform this way back in 1993.  Why weren’t we better prepared?  The tea baggers took the initiative as soon as Blue Dog Democrats killed a vote in July and forced the issue in the fall.  Blue Dogs killed health care reform with their obstinence.  They are solely responsible, not Republicans, for the death of this movement.

The Blue Dog Democrats are completely owned and operated by Big Pharma and the insurance industry.  They are corporate Dems who represent the interests of their corporate clients rather than their constituents.  Because they opposed a vote in July the bills got deferred until fall and now the crucial 60th Senate vote is gone.  Idiots like Max Baucus wasted valuable time and resources attempting to negotiate with Republicans who had publicly stated their mission was to make this fail to destroy the Obama Presidency.  How stupid can some Democrats be?  Sen. Grassley was being courted just before he went home and demonized the bills as being death panels determining whether Grandma would be euthanized.  You don’t negotiate with extremists like these you ignore them and do what’s best for the country.

That wasn’t accomplished because of the Blue Dogs.  If you live in a Blue Dog District as I do (Tim Holden) do NOT vote for your Member of Congress again.  I can say I have never for voted for mine and I never will.  We need to recruit candidates to run against them in Democratic primaries and force them towards the center or defeat them altogether.  These are many of the traitors who also voted for torture, warrantless wiretapping, to allow the government to look into all your financial records without warrants, the ability for authorities to enter and search your home without warrants and for secret overseas prisons.  They are Unamerican.  Now they’ve killed health care.  As your insurance premiums continue rising at 20% per year and you go bankrupt when you finally can no longer afford the coverage and become ill remember who was primarily responsible for the death of this legislation:  Blue Dog Democrats.

A Legend Is Laid to Rest

Senator Edward Moore Kennedy was laid to rest today following glowing tributes and a eulogy from the President of the United States.  Kennedy changed the world for the good in his 77 years on earth and 47 in the Senate.  He spoke forcefully and eloquently for those with no voice, for the old, the young, the disable, all minorities and for women.  He stood up for those who could not stand, he spoke for those with no voice, he campaigned constantly for progress, for the oppressed, for the downtrodden.

Few people have the capability of changing the world for the better.  Ted Kennedy was one of those who did.  His loss, especially during the effort to obtain his lifelong dream of serious health care reform, is a tragedy.  However we must not look at our loss, we should look at our gain for having him represent all of us for 47 years.  His accomplishments are legendary, his soaring rhetoric inspiring.  Though his voice may be silenced by the ravages of cancer his dream will live on as long as those of us remaining keep that dream alive.

This is the legacy he leaves to all of us:  keep his dream alive.

Tributes to Senator Kennedy Pour In

I’ve often thought what sort of legacy I’d like to leave when I pass on.  I think the highest ambition one can aspire to is to leave the world a better place for having been there.  No one I’ve ever seen exemplifies that distinction as Edward Kennedy did.  What better epitaph:  the world is a better place for his having been here.  Much better.  Tributes to him have poured into my inbox today.  A few:

From Vice President Joe Biden:

“My wife Jill, and my sons Beau and Hunter, and my daughter Ashley — and I don’t say that lightly, because they all knew Teddy, he did something personal and special for each one of them in their lives — truly, truly are distressed by his passing.  And our hearts go out to Teddy Jr., and Patrick and Kara, and Vicki, with whom I spoke this morning, and the whole Kennedy family.

    Teddy spent a lifetime working for a fair and more just America.  And for 36 years, I had the privilege of going to work every day and literally, not figuratively sitting next to him, and being witness to history.  Every single day the Senate was in session, I sat with him on the Senate floor in the same aisle.  I sat with him on the Judiciary Committee next — physically next to him.  And I sat with him in the caucuses.  And it was in that process, every day I was with him — and this is going to sound strange — but he restored my sense of idealism and my faith in the possibilities of what this country could do.

    He and I were talking after his diagnosis.  And I said, I think you’re the only other person I’ve met, who like me, is more optimistic, more enthusiastic, more idealistic, sees greater possibilities after 36 years than when we were elected.  He was 30 years-old when he was elected; I was 29 years-old.  And you’d think that would be the peak of our idealism.  But I genuinely feel more optimistic about the prospect for my country today than I did — I have been any time in my life.

    And it was infectious when you were with him.  You could see it, those of you who knew him and those of you who didn’t know him.  You could just see it in the nature of his debate, in the nature of his embrace, in the nature of how he every single day attacked these problems.  And, you know, he was never defeatist.  He never was petty — never was petty.  He was never small.  And in the process of his doing, he made everybody he worked with bigger — both his adversaries as well as his allies.

Don’t you find it remarkable that one of the most partisan, liberal men in the last century serving in the Senate had so many of his — so many of his foes embracing him, because they know he made them bigger, he made them more graceful by the way in which he conducted himself.

You know, he changed the circumstances of tens of millions of Americans — in the literal sense, literally — literally changed the circumstances.  He changed also another aspect of it as I observed about him — he changed not only the physical circumstance, he changed how they looked at themselves and how they looked at one another.  That’s a remarkable, remarkable contribution for any man or woman to make.  And for the hundreds, if not thousands, of us who got to know him personally, he actually — how can I say it — he altered our lives as well.

Through the grace of God and accident of history I was privileged to be one of those people and every important event in my adult life — as I look back this morning and talking to Vicki — every single one, he was there.  He was there to encourage, to counsel, to be empathetic, to lift up.  In 1972 I was a 29 year old kid with three weeks left to go in a campaign, him showing up at the Delaware Armory in the middle of what we called Little Italy — who had never voted nationally by a Democrat — I won by 3,100 votes and got 85 percent of the vote in that district, or something to that effect.  I literally would not be standing here were it not for Teddy Kennedy — not figuratively, this is not hyperbole — literally.

He was there — he stood with me when my wife and daughter were killed in an accident.  He was on the phone with me literally every day in the hospital, my two children were attempting, and, God willing, thankfully survived very serious injuries.  I’d turn around and there would be some specialist from Massachusetts, a doc I never even asked for, literally sitting in the room with me.

You know, it’s not just me that he affected like that — it’s hundreds upon hundreds of people.  I was talking to Vicki this morning and she said — she said, “He was ready to go, Joe, but we were not ready to let him go.”

He’s left a great void in our public life and a hole in the hearts of millions of Americans and hundreds of us who were affected by his personal touch throughout our lives.  People like me, who came to rely on him.  He was kind of like an anchor.  And unlike many important people in my 38 years I’ve had the privilege of knowing, the unique thing about Teddy was it was never about him.  It was always about you.  It was never about him.  It was people I admire, great women and men, at the end of the day gets down to being about them.  With Teddy it was never about him.

Well, today we lost a truly remarkable man.  To paraphrase Shakespeare:  I don’t think we shall ever see his like again.  I think the legacy he left is not just in the landmark legislation he passed, but in how he helped people look at themselves and look at one another.”

Eloquent words from a man who knew Kennedy intimately after sharing 30 years together in the Senate.

From Congressman Joe Sestak:

“”Today, America lost a man who helped shape the future of our country for a generation. Senator Ted Kennedy’s leadership on education, health care, civil rights, worker rights, and so much more has helped millions of people make good on the promise of the American Dream to pass along a better nation to our next generation. He leaves behind a legacy of true patriotism. And we honor his legacy by remembering that we are in this together and by doing our part to make a difference. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Kennedy family who are mourning the loss of a dear father, brother, grandfather, and husband.”

Paul Kanjorski:

“Today marks the passing of a great legislator and an American patriot.  Senator Kennedy has been a beacon in the halls of Congress through his dedication to the American people, his sincere patriotism, and his determined efforts in the Senate.

“I feel particularly fortunate to have served in the Congress for half of Senator Kennedy’s distinguished career.  During that time, I had the opportunity to interact with him on many occasions.  In one instance during the Clinton Administration, I joined him at the White House with then Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and President Clinton to discuss developing technologies and a new future for America.  While technology was the topic of the day, Senator Kennedy took me aside to get my thoughts on a trade bill he had recently introduced in the Senate.  The consummate public servant, Senator Kennedy was always focused on many issues and capable of multitasking.  His passions extended way beyond just one or two issues, but instead, he took up the cause for so many while managing to stay determined and dedicated to each and every one.  It is for this reason that his imprint is on so many pieces of important legislation that passed during his time in the Senate.

“While he left too soon, Senator Kennedy’s extraordinary legacy will surely live on.  My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and family.”

Senator Chris Dodd:

“I’m not sure America has ever had a greater Senator, but I know for certain that no one has had a greater friend than I and so many others did in Ted Kennedy.

I will always remember Teddy as the ultimate example for all of us who seek to serve, a hero for those Americans in the shadow of life who so desperately needed one.

He worked tirelessly to lift Americans out of poverty, advance the cause of civil rights, and provide opportunity to all. He fought to the very end for the cause of his life – ensuring that all Americans have the health care they need.

The commitment to build a stronger and fairer America, a more perfect union, was deeply ingrained in the fiber of who he was, and what he believed in, and why he served.

That’s why he stands among the most respected Senators in history. But it was his sympathetic ear, his razor wit, and his booming, raucous laugh that made him among the most beloved.

Whatever tragedy befell Teddy’s family, he would always be there for them. Whatever tragedy befell the family of one of his friends, he would always be there for us. And in this moment of profound grief, our hearts are with his wonderful wife Vicki, his fantastic kids Ted Jr., Patrick, Kara, Curran, and Caroline, his grandchildren, and the wide and wonderful extended family for whom he was always a safe harbor.

I will miss him every day I serve, and every day I live.”

National Security Adviser General James Jones:

“As a young Senate Liaison officer during the early 1980’s, I had the opportunity to get to know Senator Edward Kennedy who was then a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Senator Kennedy and his staff were among some of the best supporters the Marine Corps ever had on Capitol Hill.  Despite his many responsibilities, he always made time for me on issues of importance to Marines and their families.  Always gracious and well informed, the Senator was instrumental in the passage of the landmark legislation known as Goldwater-Nichols and military pay reforms, which ushered in the most comprehensive reforms of our military and defense establishment since the end of World War II.

Senator Kennedy, among the many things he will be remembered for, deserves to be honored for his genuine care and compassion for our men and women in uniform – his tireless work and his voting record clearly supports this distinction.  While he never shied from challenging our senior military leadership during hundreds of committee hearings, he could always be counted on to be fair and open-minded in letting witnesses like me make our case to the committee and to the American people.  He contributed a great deal to my “Washington education”, and I’m sure he is most proud of the contributions many of his former staff members continue to make to our nation today.”

Ted Kennedy, Lion of the Senate, Dead at 77

I grew up in a Republican family where our parents rejoiced at every tragedy which befell the Kennedys.  I came to revere what they stood for.  Bobby Kennedy was one of the principal reasons I became a liberal.  Taking care of the poor, the downtrodden, those without a voice, without power, without influence.

Edward Kennedy accepted the mantle after his brothers were slain and held it high for decades in the U.S. Senate.  Ted was the voice of morality even while others could never shake the ghosts of Chappaquiddick.  One mistake by a young man who didn’t think to check his car before heading home after a party and you’d think the man was a devil…

Kennedy’s legacy is huge.  He was known as the Lion of the Senate because he got big things done.  In a body constricted by rules and tradition and not known for progressive thought he was their leader.  He got things done.  His death from brain cancer was not unexpected by still a tragic loss.

We are reminded of what the Kennedy brothers gave to this nation.  Hope that all will be forgotten, the prospects for peace and justice, education for those who for too long had been left behind by a society which cared little if they succeeded, equal justice for all citizens regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.  There was always hope for tomorrow because Ted Kennedy was in the Senate.  Today that dream has died along with the Senator.  Who will keep it alive?

It’s Time For Kennedy and Byrd to Retire

Senators Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd continue on in name only.  Neither man’s health is able to allow him to fulfill his duties as Senator and their constituents and country deserve more.  Two distinguished careers will be long remembered by the nation but the time has come for both of them to retire and allow replacements to be named so the business of the country can move forward.

Much has been made of the Democratic 60 vote super majority but reality is that there are only 58 votes.  Seldom is it that Kennedy and Byrd can make it to the floor of the Senate to cast votes.  With serious health care reform upon us no one can assure the country that either Senator could vote to kill a Republican filibuster.  I thank both of these extraordinary gentlemen for their service to this nation but now is the time to one last great deed.