Since the death of Senator Edward Moore Kennedy, much has been said and written about his life and about his politics. In many ways, he was larger than life from a much storied family.
No matter what one s politics or religious ideology, one would have to concede that he was tirelessly committed to improving the quality of life for the poor and oppressed through legislation on health care, civil rights, education, immigration and labor. His hard work has left an undeniable mark on our nation.
As a public servant for almost 50 years, his public and private life has been continuously scrutinized by the press and the media. He has faced more personal tragedy that most of us will ever see in three lifetimes. Some of that tragedy was of his own making.
Nonetheless, with all of his imperfections, he passionately served the people of Massachusetts and the nation for almost 50 years. He often gave voice to the voiceless and was fiercely committed to making a difference in our world.
He often made reference to his religious faith as being the foundation of his life and his driving force for his commitments to civil rights and social justice.
Edward Moore Kennedy was born into privilege and power. He did not need money, he had plenty of it. He did not need government because he came from a family of power. However, like his two older brothers before him, he chose a life of public service. He did more behind closed doors, and underneath the public radar than many were aware. His random acts of kindness and thoughtful gestures of compassion were some of the countless stories that have been told since his death. There was so much more to this complex, complicated leader of people.
As I have thought about his life since his passing, a couple of important issues have emerged.
Life is complicated and complex. It's always dangerous to judge a book by its cover. Kennedy is a wonderful reminder of that principle. Many loved him and hated him for his politics, his ideology and his social behavior.
Underneath that public man was a man with a tender heart, who was compassionate and thoughtful and who did much for others without seeking the limelight or attention. He did it quietly and anonymously. In private circles, he admitted without reservation, to his human imperfections and his need for redemption.
Remembering staff birthdays with a card and/or phone call, writing regularly to the families from his state who lost loved ones in 9/ 11 are just a few examples of his human spirit that was often eclipsed by his politics and his public life.
The call to public service is another important issue to consider, especially during these difficult times. It is not an easy walk. We need talented and gifted people to step up and serve the public interest. We also need to revive a call to respect for all people, especially those who volunteer for public service.
We should never shy away from debating the issues or from challenging the way issues are being handled. Those who lead us must be transparent and held accountable. However, we must stay focused on the issues and not attack the persons who represent the issues.
So often when we disagree with someone's position on an issue, we tend to blur the issue and crucify the person. In this regard, the press and media often don't help. They only add more fuel to the fire.
If we do not restore civility to public life and public discourse, why would any caring person want to be leader and be contaminated by this destructive dynamic?
Edward Kennedy is dead. Much will continue to be said and written about his life and his politics. He was not a saint and should not be canonized. That is in God's hands. However, he did continuously remind us of the moral urgency of achieving a just society and that decent, quality health care is a fundamental right and not just a privilege for all Americans.
So the debate must continue and the call to reform must move forward. As we know, the health care issue is not a simple one. It is complex and messy. However, the challenge for those who lead us is to be honest and truthful in addressing the issues of health care. We need to continue to ask questions and expect competent answers. The debate must be comprehensive, but civil, and stay focused on the issues and not people and politics.
We are an extraordinary nation with many extraordinary people. Our present generation of young people is among the brightest and most compassionate. Hopefully, as they discern their career paths, many among them will consider public service and leadership. As the present generation that leads, we must create a climate that welcomes and encourages them.
Every American, rich and poor alike, should have the right and privilege to quality health care, affordable housing and basic human rights, if we are truly a just society. Let that dream never die!
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