Dear Senator Kennedy:
It is now the law of the land.
Throughout all this, I have found myself thinking a lot about you. It saddens me that you did not live long enough to see the enactment of this measure -- which in many ways was the cause closest to your heart during your 47 years in the Senate. But please do know senator, that though you could not physically be there for either the final vote or the signing ceremony, your presence was duly noted time and time again. For 77 years, you were larger than life; for the past 7 months, you have been larger than death.
Throughout the past several days, people have been coming to your burial site in order to express their silent gratitude. Your son Patrick left a note on his official Congressional stationary. It said simply, "Dad: the 'unfinished business' is done." One tour guide pointed to the white cross atop your grave and recalled "The great Senator Ted Kennedy, the man who championed health care." Mrs. Kennedy, along with your three dogs, came, bearing camellias. You've got to know how much time she put into the fight for health care. From almost the moment you passed last August 25, she has been an all but perpetual presence on Capitol Hill; prodding, poking, cajoling and encouraging wavering Democrats to vote aye. She did a magnificent job, and indeed was standing next to the president when he signed your health care bill into law. Although the pundits call it "Obama Care," it is really "Kennedy Care." Your colleagues in the senate stood a full minute in silence on your behalf. It was the sanest sixty seconds of the past week . . .
I am sure that the bill your colleagues passed would not be your first choice. It is by no means a perfect piece of legislation. I am sure you would see it as a work in progress. After all, ever since you filed your first reform bill -- way back in 1970 -- you have been an unwavering advocate for universal health care. Nonetheless, I am sure you would be as happy and as proud as anyone on the Democratic side of the aisle for what dreams have managed to become reality.
Are you aware, Senator, that the bill passed both the House and Senate without a single Republican vote? What's been going on is unbelievable. During the final days and hours leading up to that final vote, the House floor had all the decorum and collegiality of a high school locker room at half time. The level and intensity of partisanship is off the historic charts. And, it has become downright rancorous. The Republicans are now vowing that if only the American voters will "fire" every single Democrat in Congress who voted aye, they will "repeal and replace." As we say in rabbinic parlance, qeev'yachol -- "As if it were possible."
Would you believe me if I told you that numerous Democratic members of Congress -- and at least one Republican -- have been subjected to death threats by anonymous 'patriotic' cowards? Or that a former candidate for Vice President has come out with a fund raising ad which features white and red gun crosshairs drawn over districts whose Democratic representatives voted for health care? Is there any question why some crazies are making death threats? You should hear what they have to say on talk radio! It would make your white hair fall out. Your colleagues on the other side of the aisle have responded rather limply to these outrages -- and only after much prodding. This is not an atmosphere which either you or your brothers would have tolerated.
But I forget the purpose of this missive . . .
Senator, I just wanted you to know how much we owe you; how many thankful prayers we are currently praying, how much motivation your memory provides. I know that you are not everyone's cup of tea; that you, like the rest of us, had deep flaws and shortcomings, and were the author of some pretty egregious actions and missteps. But so far as I can recall, you never ran for sainthood; only for the senate; you never sought beatification, merely nomination. And if this is not enough, there is the concept of "Hating the sin but loving the sinner" which, if memory serves correctly comes from Mahatma Gandhi.
Having said this, I want to conclude by once again thanking you for devoting so much of your life to that which so many claimed was either unconstitutional or just plain impossible. Because of you -- and your brothers -- there is a bit more dignity in America. You never gave up. You never took "no" for an answer.
What you said about your brother Bobby at his funeral nearly 42 years ago (!) could just as easily be said of you:
"You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, Why not?'"
Senator, thank you for never being afraid to ask 'Why not?'
Kurt F. Stone
©2010 Kurt F. Stone