I’m not a journalist, folks, so I don’t have a canned story ready to go, but I do have a lot on my mind right now having learned of the news of Senator Kennedy’s death. So, allow me to share, but forgive me for not writing something more “polished.”
The enormity of Ted Kennedy’s impact on this nation is hard to quantify. He was not my Senator, but he represented me indirectly. I never lived in Massachusetts. I’ve only been to Boston 4 or 5 times in my life. But my doctoral dissertation focuses on community health centers–a program that Sen. Kennedy championed in the Senate–so I have Sen. Kennedy to thank for that. He made health care the central issue of his career, wanting to make sure that all Americans had access to it. Several years ago, I decided to make the same cause–underserved populations–the center of my career in health services research and policy.
So, I feel a debt of gratitude, but more than that, I worry that we stand on the edge of a great moment in American history–a moment that Sen. Kennedy longed to see–when our proud nation finally decides to stand united in proclaiming that in our great society, human decency requires that we not permit our fellow citizens to suffer the ill effects of a life lived without access to the most basic of health care services. I mourn the fact that Sen. Kennedy did not live to see his dream fulfilled, and now, I worry moreover that the dream may not be fulfilled as a result of his passing.
If the current debate were a major motion picture, the final scene would be like something out of The Dead Poet’s Society with the roll call vote on health care being taken…..Sen. Grassley–the old coot–would lead the charge by voting “Nay,” and a few other staunch conservatives would join him. Then, just as the music grew gloomy and it seemed like all hope for reform was lost, one by one Senators from both sides of the aisle would climb up, stand atop their desks, and utter the words “O Captain, My Captain.”
Alas, Congressional politics are far less poetic than that. Robert Creamer wants Congress to remember Kennedy by passing health reform, but history shows us that sympathy doesn’t play well. Remember how all those Republican Senators voted for mental health parity right after Sen. Wellstone perished in that plane crash? Me neither. I fear that the sympathy votes won’t materialize, and that until the special election in Massachusetts, the Democrats are one vote weaker, and while it may be just one vote on paper, in reality, it is immeasurably more than that.
R.I.P. Sen. E.M. Kennedy 1932 – 2009