Wednesday 26 August 2009

Edward Kennedy 1932-2009

Ted Kennedy, who has died after a fifteen-month battle with brain cancer, achieved more by not becoming president than either of his two assassinated brothers. Of course, he was a flawed character, as his response at Chappaquiddick and the incident in Florida demonstrated. But he was also a truly great legislator, who despite his liberalism (or perhaps because of it) recognised the importance of reaching across party lines in the US context to achieve change that would make a real difference to his poorer constituents and to African Americans.

No Child Left Behind has its flaws, but it was the first serious attempt to address the great flaws of the American public school system. His work on civil, labour and voting rights was transformative. He paved the way for health care reform, and one must only hope that Barack Obama doesn't blow it.

And as I write this from County Cork, RTE radio reminds its listeners - as if they need reminding - that it was his influence more than most that changed Irish America in its vital role in ensuring that mainstream Irish Republicanism embraced the Northern peace process. Of course, he was also a great lion of Democratic politics, even though his 1980 efforts to wrest the nomination from the hapless Jimmy Carter proved a failure for both men ultimately, and a skilled convention orator. But it for his legislative legacy, rather than his being the last of the Kennedy siblings, that he most deserves to be remembered.

No comments: