I am not a Democrat and I am not a big fan of this latest “stimulus” package, so I didn’t have an emotional stake in last night’s vote in the Senate to finally pass that huge spending bill and send it on to the White House. But there was an event on Capitol Hill last night in which I found drama. I’m not speaking of Senator Sherrod Brown‘s late arrival after his mother’s death, coming in with a solemn face to cast the last vote placing the stimulus package into filibuster-proof territory. Today’s story in the Washington Post was all about Senator Brown’s journey from Ohio to vote, then back to Ohio for his mother’s funeral. It characterized Brown’s vote, cast five long hours after voting began, as the one desperately needed vote for the bill’s passage:
Brown’s was the critical vote Senate Democrats needed to ensure that the signature legislation of President Obama’s young administration passed without a GOP filibuster…. The journey illustrated the extraordinary steps Democrats took to guarantee a major victory…. “There was just no question that Sherrod would have to cast his vote.”
But Sherrod Brown wouldn’t have had to leave his mother’s memorial and the voting wouldn’t have had to be dragged out for five hours if Senator Edward Kennedy had not been absent from his job. Senator Edward Kennedy didn’t show up. Senator Kennedy is sick. He is more than sick. He is dying from an inoperable, incurable brain tumor. Sherrod Brown’s mother has died, but he has been able to do his work, and in a few short days he will go back to work full time. Let’s face facts: Ted Kennedy isn’t going back to work full time. He is going to die.
Yes, it’s sad. It’s sad when people die. But it’s also sad when other sick people don’t get health care. It’s also sad when nations go off to unnecessary war. It’s also sad when corruption fails to see the light of day because congressional oversight is lacking. It’s also sad when environmental goals are not met. It’s also sad when Americans lose their civil liberties and nobody stops it. Last night’s vote shows how important one Senator can be in shifting the course of a nation’s history for good or bad, and it shows the difference between a healthy Senator able to sacrifice time for his country and an ailing Senator who is unable. Senator Kennedy has been unable to do his job, not just on this vote but on a range of other actions. Senator Kennedy was not able to be there to help pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Senator Kennedy was not able to be there to help pass a law extending environmental protections for 2 million acres of wilderness areas, or to vote to stop conservatives from cutting off health care for poor kids. Senator Kennedy has not extended his cosponsorship to important progressive bills to prevent ocean acification, stop the proliferation of kid-killing cluster bombs, extend Pre-K enrichment or protect the Gulf of the Farallones. I’m sure it isn’t because he wouldn’t be willing. It’s because he isn’t able.
His name is Edward Kennedy, not King Edward Kennedy, not Prince Edward Kennedy, not Lord Edward. His position is not a royal seat. It is a job. He cannot do his job any longer, and yet the job must be done. He has done a great deal in his time in the Senate, and those people who agree with his work shouldn’t be afraid to show their appreciation. But his time is done, and all that he accomplishes by keeping his titular hold on his Senate seat is to silence the voice of someone else who could accomplish something. And yes, there is someone else who could accomplish something. There are many people who could… if Senator Kennedy would acknowledge what’s happening and make his unattended seat available.
Senator Kennedy, letting go is hard, but it is time for you to leave the Senate. It is time to resign.