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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ted Kennedy's Health Care Dream Came True Today, Patrick Leaves Note On His Grave

Patrick Kennedy Leaves Note On Ted's Gravesite: "Dad, The Unfinished Business Is Done"

The political odyssey of health care reform in many ways is the story of Ted Kennedy, and as President Obama signed the historic bill into law Tuesday, Kennedy's gravesite was a place of quiet celebration and poignant reflection.

The late senator's widow, Vicki Reggie Kennedy, spent hours on Sunday at the simple white cross at Arlington National Cemetery marking where her husband was laid to rest only seven months ago. Ted Kennedy's youngest son, Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), visited on Monday morning and left a hand-written note that read: "Dad, the unfinished business is done."

And on a dreary Tuesday morning, dozens of school children and health care advocates paused at Kennedy's tombstone to commemorate the man who for decades made overhauling the nation's health-care system his life's mission.

Kennedy's legacy was not lost on anyone who filled the East Room of the White House for Obama's bill-signing ceremony. Members of Congress wore blue "TedStrong" wristbands in his honor and posed for pictures with Patrick Kennedy. Caroline Kennedy, the senator's niece, sat in the front row, with other members of the storied family. Vicki Kennedy walked into the room with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Obama received a thunderous applause when he evoked the ghost of Ted Kennedy near the climax of his speech.

"I remember seeing Ted walk through that door in a summit in this room a year ago, one of his last public appearances, and it was hard for him to make it, but he was confident that we would do the right thing," Obama said.

When Obama sat to sign the bill, Patrick and Vicki Kennedy stood behind him. Finally, Ted Kennedy's dream became the law of the land.

Shame Ted Kennedy Wasn't Around To See Health Care Reform Dream Fulfilled

His clan seemed to suffer another cruel twist of fate as Sen. Edward Kennedy lay buried beside his murdered brothers while the critical fight for what he called the cause of his life raged in the Capitol within view of his grave.

Then, just as the fight came to where it would be won or lost, just when he was needed most, his spirit seemed to swoop down across the Potomac to the White House and the President he had declared to be the true inheritor of his brother John's legacy.

It was not the spirit of John so much as of Edward that spurred Obama to cease seeking to conciliate and again speak with actual passion about what was really at stake in health care reform.

"If you think that somehow it's okay we have millions of hardworking Americans who can't get health care and it's all right, it's acceptable, in the wealthiest nation on Earth that there are children with chronic illnesses that can't get the care that they need - then you should vote 'no' on this bill," he told the Democratic congressional caucus on Saturday.

Otherwise, he told them, they should vote "yes," whatever the political pressures.

"Every once in a while, a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country."

The Kennedy spirit was joined by echoes of Lincoln.

"We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine."

Passion became action and even the "pro-life" Democrats who held out for a last-minute deal were really just looking for a way to join in making history.

Some say the bill Obama will sign today did not go far enough, but Kennedy would be cheering it as a big step forward after so many frustrating and disheartening years of going nowhere at all.

"The shame is he wasn't around to see it," Dr. Jack Geiger said yesterday. "Even though he's gone, he deserves a lot of the credit because he was the one who kept this alive for year after year."

Geiger speaks as a doctor who co-founded a community health clinic in a tough part of Boston that first inspired Kennedy to embrace the cause back in 1966. Geiger and his co-founder, Dr. Count Gibson, had been medical workers with the civil rights movement down South.

Kennedy immediately understood when he visited this clinic up North that the principle behind it was that health care is no less a matter of justice.

"He spent most of his time talking to the patients," Geiger recalled. "Yeah, he wanted to understand the concept and the structure, but he was most interested in the effect it had on the people."

Kennedy later spoke of meeting women who otherwise had to ride the bus three hours to the nearest medical facility and then wait in long lines with no place even for the pregnant ones to sit. He said the clinic was "where it all started," where he embarked on "the cause of my life."

Kennedy kept up the fight through his final hours. The struggle was then left without its most passionate and untiring champion, and Geiger was among those who worried all might be lost.

As the decisive moment neared, Obama filled with that spirit as surely as if it swooped down from across the river.

The doctor who helped kindle that passion in Kennedy decades ago now lives in Brooklyn. He has no doubt Kennedy would be a deeply happy warrior today.

"He'd want more, and if he'd been around we would have gotten more, but it's a real start," Geiger said. "At last!"

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Sources: Washington Post, NY Daily News, Youtube, Google Maps

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