His legacy of political achievement is long: his constant and continuing fight (YouTube) for the child health insurance program (CHIP), support and legal equality for Americans with disabilities, reforms of mental health programs, national community service, the voting rights act, substantial work for years on civil rights and civil liberties (YouTube) concerns.
But his passion, the one that has not yet been achieved, has been quality health care for all, not just the privileged few.
In the video above, Sen. Kennedy speaks in Montgomery County, PA, about his motivation on health care: watching families in the pediatric cancer ward give up everything they had worked so hard for their entire lives to desperately try to save their children, the same way he and his family were trying to save their own. Except that he had excellent health insurance, and the difference it made was substantial.
Imagine facing the fear that you could lose your child and trying to deal with that? Now imagine adding the fear that you might have to lose everything, including that child’s home and place of comfort, to do so at the same time?
Sen. Kennedy wrote a piece for Newsweek last year regarding his passionate work on health care, and the motivations for it. It is a fitting tribute to him that those words resonate just as strongly today:
. . .quality care shouldn’t depend on your financial resources, or the type of job you have, or the medical condition you face. Every American should be able to get the same treatment that U.S. senators are entitled to.
This is the cause of my life. It is a key reason that I defied my illness last summer to speak at the Democratic convention in Denver—to support Barack Obama, but also to make sure, as I said, "that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American…will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not just a privilege." For four decades I have carried this cause—from the floor of the United States Senate to every part of this country. It has never been merely a question of policy; it goes to the heart of my belief in a just society. Now the issue has more meaning for me—and more urgency—than ever before. But it’s always been deeply personal, because the importance of health care has been a recurrent lesson throughout most of my 77 years.
Whatever health care bill comes through the legislative process, if there is any care or concern for the public at large in the bill, it will have been due — in large measure — to the constant fight from Ted Kennedy.
This is a great loss indeed.