Kennedy leaves unfinished legacy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 August, 2009, 12:00am

An avalanche of tributes from international statesmen is customary on the passing of a former world leader. When it is for an old political warrior fated never to achieve the highest office, it is extraordinary.

That says something about the iconic standing of Senator Edward Kennedy, whose death at 77 from brain cancer ends a political dynasty.

Senator Kennedy, being the last of four sons, was fated by birth not to be the standard-bearer of his family's political destiny. However, after oldest brother Joe died in the second world war and president John F. Kennedy and senator Robert Kennedy fell to assassins' bullets, the young senator was expected to take it up.

Fate intervened again in 1969 when his car ran off a bridge and a young woman drowned. The revelation that he left the scene without reporting the accident scarred his image and damaged any presidential ambitions - he ran unsuccessfully for the 1980 Democratic nomination.

A lesser man might have given up on politics. After all, Senator Kennedy was by then head of one of America's most famous families. But he remained in the Senate and dedicated himself to the social justice causes on which he campaigned for high office when they were more fashionable than they are now.

Despite a life dogged by more family tragedies, Senator Kennedy established a reputation beyond America's shores as one of his country's most effective lawmakers, crafting deals with presidents and politicians of both major parties. The man who might have been president became known as the lion of the senate and a great patriot.

His abiding cause was reform of health care. In one of his last speeches he cited his own illness, acknowledging he had benefited from a quality of medical care denied to millions.

He did not live to see his dream of health reform prevail over political opposition. But his endorsement was important to the White House candidacy of President Barack Obama, who has taken up the cause.