Ted Kennedy, 1932-2009

Ted Kennedy lost his battle with brain cancer last night and died at the age of 77.  Kennedy, whose life was marked with tragedies and losses as well as self-inflicted scandals but also with legislative victories and power, had been ill for the last year, and had missed most of the 2009 session of Congress as a result:

Edward M. Kennedy, one of the most powerful and influential senators in American history and one of three brothers whose political triumphs and personal tragedies captivated the nation for decades, died late Tuesday at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., at age 77. He had been battling brain cancer.

His family announced his death in a brief statement released early Wednesday. “We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever,” the statement said. “We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all.” …

Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, was the last male survivor of a privileged and charismatic family that in the 1960s dominated American politics and attracted worldwide attention. His sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, died two weeks ago, also in Hyannis Port. One sibling, former U.S. ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith, is still alive.

As heir through tragedy to his accomplished older brothers — President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.), both of whom were assassinated — Edward Kennedy became the patriarch of his clan and a towering figure in the U.S. Senate to a degree neither of his siblings had been.

That last is a little unfair to John and Robert, who were both assassinated before their parents had died.  Had they survived, John and and then Robert would almost certainly have assumed that role.  Both deaths were American tragedies, but they were deeply personal tragedies for all of the Kennedys, and Ted had that role thrust upon him to a large extent through two assassins’ bullets.

As Michelle says, we will have plenty of time to analyze Kennedy’s life and work, but today is a day to give comfort to Kennedy’s family.  They will be in my prayers.

Update: Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, issued this statement:

“It is with great sadness that Elaine and I note the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy, one of the giants of American political life, a longtime Senate colleague, and a friend.

“No one could have known the man without admiring the passion and vigor he poured into a truly momentous life. We send our deepest expressions of sympathy to Vicki, his children, and the entire Kennedy family.”