Ted Kennedy was in many ways a difficult man to figure out.
His three brothers were groomed to be leaders. As the baby of the family, Teddy had to figure out how on his own.
All three of his brothers died violently. Teddy died at home in his bed.
Three plane crashes claimed the lives of members of the Kennedy family over the years. Teddy was once in a plane crash too, but he survived his.
Nobody questioned the burial of his brothers at Arlington National Cemetary. The army has invited Ted to be buried there too but I bet you a dollar to a can of beans that some idiotic right wing talk show host will claim that the army was pressured into it (for the record, Ted Kennedy is a Korean era veteran and has every right to be buried at Arlington for that reason alone.)
As the youngest of the Kennedy brothers, he was never expected to become the leader. His father Joe Kennedy wanted for one of his sons to become a President, the first catholic President of the United States.
So from an early age, he groomed his oldest son, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. to become the leader.
Joseph Sr. was a bomber pilot in World War II and volunteered for a dangerous mission, in which he was shot down.
So then the mantle fell on John the second son, who had heroically survived his own brush with death during the war. And John did one day become President. And died when a bullet, fired by whom has never been conclusively determined, blew his brain out of the back of his head.
And then the third son, Robert, took the mantle up and determined to become President and finish the job that John had started. And he was well on his way when he died by the same cause as John did.
And so it fell on the youngest son, Edward, to carry on the tradition.
There is no doubt what Edward's biggest failure was, it came in 1969 when he got drunk and drove a car off of a bridge with a young campaign worker. Kennedy managed to get out of the submerged vehicle and swim to safety but the campaign worker died. Kennedy admitted himself that his conduct that night was 'inexcusable.'
Republicans have used Kennedy's personal failings and biggest mistake to flog him for over forty years (although they typically only reserve this treatment for liberals, conveniently forgetting that Laura Bush also once killed a person while driving drunk.)
And during those forty years Kennedy has grown into one of the most effective legislators that the Senate has ever known, writing and then sponsoring legislation with senators of every conceivable stripe. I disagree with Barney Frank's overly romantic statement today that Ted Kennedy was the most influential person in American history who was never elected President mainly because I'm sure that 95% of Americans if asked that question would name Ben Franklin (and I would be one of them) but nevertheless it is a good measure of how effective a legislator he has been. Someone pointed out today that Kennedy's tenure in the senate has been exceeded in American history only by Robert Byrd (still serving) and the late Strom Thurmond, but it is virtually certain that Kennedy has had more success over the years at writing and getting legislation passed than either of them. It is probably Kennedy's effectiveness that has so infuriated conservatives to where they are much more likely to detest Kennedy than, for example, Robert Byrd. Just like in sports, the loudest boos are reserved for the opponents who have stuffed your team in the past.
More than any other cause, Kennedy wanted to see universal health care extended to all Americans. He later wrote that his biggest legislative failure was in opposing a Nixon-backed plan in the early 1970's that included something along the lines of a public option, because Kennedy at the time favored a single payer plan. Eventually the opposition was strong enough that nothing got passed. Since then however Kennedy has pushed tirelessly for reform, until his own health became so bad that he couldn't do it anymore. Even then, he was ready right up until the end to literally be wheeled into the Senate chamber if his vote were needed to pass reform.
But like his brothers, he won't live to see the vision fulfilled. We must do it though, because passing health care reform this year, with a public option, would be the best and most fitting tribute we could pay to Senator Edward M. Kennedy.