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Many of town-hall protesters’ claims challenged by facts

by Keith Barber

Many of town-hall protesters’ claims challenged by facts

I can still remember Ted Kennedy’s speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. At age 13 I had a budding interest in politics, and a great admiration for anyone who could captivate an audience by eloquently expressing what we all felt but few of us had the ability to articulate.

Kennedy acknowledged that his bid for the presidency had come to an end that night Keith T. Barber in Madison Square Garden, and he ended his speech with a dramatic flourish that staff editor touched on his family’s enduring political keith@yesweekly.com legacy. “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die,” Kennedy said. The Massachusetts senator quoted Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses: I am a part of all that I have met… Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will; To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. Kennedy acknowledged that Tennyson’s prose was a favorite of older brothers, John and Robert. But on that night, Tennyson’s sentiments perfectly described Ted Kennedy’s tumultuous personal and political journey. The crowd roared its approval and as Kennedy stepped down from the dais, it marked the end of his quest for the highest office in the land. With the untimely deaths of older brothers, Joe, John and Robert, the great responsibility of carrying the Kennedy torch fell on Teddy’s shoulders.

In retrospect, Kennedy’s failure to win the White House turned out to be the greatest blessing imaginable for him and every single one of us. Kennedy, better known as the “Liberal Lion” of the Senate, fought for 47 years to ensure a better quality of life for those without power and influence — the poor, the elderly and our nation’s children. Caroline Kennedy’s emotional introduction of her “Uncle Teddy” during last year’s Democratic National Convention reminded me of the debt of gratitude all Americans owe Edward M. Kennedy. “For 46 years, he’s been so much more than just a senator for the people of Massachusetts,” Caroline Kennedy said. “He’s been a senator for all who believe in a dream that’s never died.” Caroline Kennedy touched on the beneficiaries of Ted Kennedy’s legislative victories, including those who are no longer denied a job due to their race, gender or disability. Kennedy’s legislative legacy has benefited all who have seen a rise in the minimum wage, children who receive health care through the children’s health insurance program, anyone who has seen a nurse at a community health center and anyone who benefits from Medicare — a social program Kennedy fought to create — and returned to the Senate last year to rescue. Beneficiaries of the Kennedy legacy include children whose early development has been bolstered by Head Start, students who are now attending better schools or going to college on aPell Grant and 18-year-olds who have the right to vote. Just threemonths after he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, Ted Kennedy tookthe stage in Denver and electrified the audience. And a few monthslater, America had its first African-American president. Kennedy’slegislative achievements are nothing short of mind-blowing. He authoredmore than 2,500 bills during a 47-year career in the US Senate. TheKennedy imprint can be seen in every facet of American life, butnowhere is it more evident than in the healthcare arena. It could beargued that Kennedy’s career in the Senate set the stage for thecurrent healthcare reform debate, and has brought our nation to thecusp of having universal healthcare for all Americans. Hefirst called for universal healthcare for all Americans in 1969, threeyears after he proposed an amendment to the Economic Opportunity Actthat appropriated $51 million to start 30 community health centersstarted around the country. Some 40 years later, 20 million Americanshave access to healthcare services at 1,200 community health centersthroughout the country as a result of the senator’s vision of ahealthcare system that provides for the needs all Americans, accordingto the senator’s website. Kennedy worked across the aisle andbuild alliances with Republicans to affect real change in ourhealthcare system. In the mid-1990’s, Kennedy cosponsored the HealthInsurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA, and created achild health insurance program — S-CHIP, with Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.HIPPA ensures healthcare coverage for 25 million Americans, and theS-CHIP program is expected to benefit more than 11 million children. In2006, Kennedy co-sponsored the Family Opportunity Act, which expandsMedicaid coverage to children with special needs by giving poorfamilies with disabled children the opportunity to purchase healthcoverage under Medicaid. A decade before the currenthealthcare reform debate, Kennedy led a healthcare reform initiative inMassachusetts, which helped more than 750,000 of the state’s residentsget quality, affordable health care. In 2008, the state’s percentage ofuninsured residents dropped to 2.6 percent. By contrast, 21 percent ofNorth Carolinians currently have no health insurance, according to theNC Institute of Medicine. Despite his personal illness,Kennedy led the charge on current healthcare reform initiatives workingtheir way through Congress. Due in large part to his persistence, theHealth, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed the AffordableHealth Choices Act in July. The HELP committee is the first committeein Congress to act upon President Obama’s call for comprehensive healthreform. And when it came to foreign affairs, Kennedy showedgreat courage in standing up for what he believed. He called for an endto the war in Vietnam in the late 1960s and was one of only 23 senatorsto vote against the use of force in Iraq. Last weekend, as I listenedand watched Kennedy’s funeral services, I thought of a quote fromanother great poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Heroismfeels and never reasons, and therefore is always right,” Emerson wrote.“And yet the love that will be annihilated sooner than treacherous hasalready made death impossible, and affirms itself no mortal, but anative of the deeps of absolute and inextinguishable being.” Heroism never dies, and the political legacy of Edward M. Kennedy will be forever etched in our nation’s history.

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