Head to the Boston Globe to find the full-size photo of Senator Edward Kennedy receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom. But Senator Edward Kennedy is not there; he’s back in Massachusetts, suffering from brain cancer. The most his son Patrick can tell President Obama after the ceremony is that “he’s understanding everything that is going on, he’s following everything.” Senator Kennedy is dying, and it’s been clear that he’s been dying since the 111th Congress began.
It’s very, very sad that Senator Kennedy is dying. It’s sad when everyone dies. Death is a human constant. The human variable is what a person accomplishes while she or he is capable. Senator Edward Kennedy has accomplished a great deal in his lifetime, but the days of his political accomplishments are over. Witness the U.S. Senate’s roll calls: Kennedy has missed the past 100 votes. He hasn’t shown up to vote in the Senate since April 27, and his record of voting before that date this year has been dismal as well.
It’s not that Edward Kennedy doesn’t want to vote. It’s that he can’t. He isn’t capable. He is incapacitated. He can’t do his job, and there are consequences. Early in the year, Senator Sherrod Brown’s mother died, and despite that he had to hotfoot it over to the Senate to vote on a close bill because Senator Kennedy was incapable of voting. Now, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has allowed a moment of candor to acknowledge that “Contrary to a popular fairy tale, there is no passing comprehensive health reform without 60 votes. Two of our Democrats have had lengthy absences due to health.”
The other health absence to which Wyden refers is that of the aged and confused Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. His absence matters less than Kennedy’s because Byrd is less-often absent, but also because West Virginia is a conservative state and any replacement of his would be a fickle supporter of the progressive agenda. Massachusetts is a strongly progressive state in its politics and Kennedy’s replacement would be willing and able to act in promotion of the progressive agenda.
Some may call it callous to ask an old and ailing man to step aside and allow someone else to do his job. I say it is more callous of an old man to hang onto a job he cannot perform, gumming up an entire raft of legislation that could do well for the country as a result. Thanks to his position of power, Senator Kennedy will have free health care for his brain tumor for the rest of his life, even after he resigns. Because he is unwilling to give up the seat of power he can no longer use, thousands of Americans with brain tumors continue to receive substandard health care, or no health care at all, or health care that leaves their families drowning in debt.
If being a Senator really isn’t all about you, Senator Kennedy, if it’s really all about public service, then please do the public a favor. Resign. Resign and let someone else take the seat you’ve left empty.