(NNPA)—Inasmuch as everyone is sharing stories about the thoughtfulness of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, I may as well add mine. While attending the national Democratic convention in Denver last August, I wrote a column about what he had to go through to attend the event.
“It is remarkable that Kennedy appeared at the convention at all,” I wrote at the time. “After undergoing an operation for one of the most serious forms of brain cancer, he flew to Denver by chartered plane, checked into the University of Colorado Hospital on Sunday, the day before his scheduled speech. There, he had a painful encounter with kidney stones.
“Still in pain, he was determined to address delegates Monday night. He left his hospital bed, was driven to the Pepsi Center, and then traveled backstage on a golf cart. Kennedy walked unassisted to the stage, gave a rousing 10-minute speech, and returned to his hospital bed. It was one of the most courageous performances I have ever witnessed. I can’t think of a more deserving profile in courage.”
A few days later, a Kennedy staffer e-mailed me requesting my address so that the senator could send me a note.
Indeed, in a note dated Sept. 8, 2008—my mother’s 79th birthday—he wrote: “Dear Mr. Curry, I was deeply moved by your column last week. Your kind words both touched my heart and lifted my spirits. Traveling to Denver was no easy journey, but nothing was going to keep me from that special gathering.
“Thank you so much for your generous words. You certainly gave me new strength for the weeks ahead, and for that I’m very grateful. With respect and appreciation, Edward M. Kennedy.” It was signed, “Ted.” He added, “Many thanks George.”
Again, I was moved by the man. Here he was fighting for his life yet he took the time to send me—and many others—a personal note. Over the weekend, we heard dozens of stories about his legendary thoughtfulness.
That was the personal side of Ted Kennedy. Democrats should learn from the public side. The problem is that after drifting to the right for more than a decade, it is difficult to discern what Democrats stand for anymore. In the past, they always portrayed themselves the liberal alternative to conservative Republicans. However, Democrats are so busy running from the L-word that they risk becoming Republicrats, a crude cross between Democrats and Republicans.
As a nation, we admire fighters. And Ted Kennedy was a fighter; he battled for civil rights when it was not popular, he pushed for higher wages, gender equality and improving the lives of the disabled. Above all else, he was a loud and consistent voice for universal health care.
Yet, neither weak-kneed Democrats nor Republicans who profess to love him so much in death have the audacity to pick up the Kennedy mantle and insist that we adopt universal health care, something that every other industrialized country has managed to do.
So far, Republicans have outmaneuvered Democrats. They’ve played the game well. It goes like this: Republicans, claiming to be eager to sign on to a bipartisan effort, water down whatever proposals Democrats offer, pretending there is a possibility that Obama may win more than three Republican votes. But even with stripped down proposals, the GOP eventually say they can’t sign on to a proposed bill and then vote against it en masse.
Consequently, Democrats are left with proposed laws that are weaker than when originally considered by Congress and end up with virtually no Republican support. Republicans played this game with stimulus legislation and now they’re doing it with health care.
But the real culprits are Democrats, who control the House, Senate and the White House. They have the votes to pass universal health care without GOP lawmakers. But they can’t get their act together. As we have seen, when the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill say they are opposed to something, they manage to keep their troops in line.
However, Democrats are not able to display that same level of discipline. In the end, if universal health care fails to pass, it will be because Democrats, including President Barack Obama, can’t get their act together.
If Obama wants to reverse his dwindling poll numbers, he should become, as he was during his campaign for the White House, a strong advocate for universal health care instead of caving in, as he already has, to the pharmaceutical/health care medical complex. It will be no major accomplishment to sign a bill into law that essentially preserves the status quo.
Ted Kennedy had back trouble but he didn’t have backbone trouble. As Bill Moyers observed recently, it appears that the backbones of Democrats have been surgically removed. If they truly want to honor Kennedy, they should borrow a page from him by displaying courage and passing universal health care.
(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com.)