The death of Sen. Edward Kennedy has sparked much debate between both supporters and critics of his long and turbulent political career.
I do not believe, however, that such an influential politician can be described solely in extremes. Did Kennedy have virtues? Of course. Did he have flaws? Naturally. No matter what people make him out to be, Kennedy was, like everyone else, human.
Ted Kennedy was born the youngest of nine children, with notable siblings such as President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Like his two elder brothers, Ted Kennedy entered into politics at a young age and was elected to the United States Senate at the age of 30 in 1962, beginning his long and prolific Senate career.
During the 1960s, Kennedy worked closely with President Lyndon B. Johnson to advance the causes of civil rights and education in America, still riding the momentum generated by the New Deal.
Unfortunately, much of Kennedy's early career was filled with tragedy. Within six years of his first election to the Senate, President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy had both been assassinated.
In 1969, eight years after taking his Senate seat, Ted Kennedy drove his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Ma., killing his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy escaped unscathed, but did not report the accident to the authorities until after Kopechne's body had been recovered the next day. Kennedy received a suspended sentence and a year's probation for the accident. His electorate forgave him despite such controversy though, and continuously re-elected him to the Senate.
Kennedy was re-elected for his second full Senate term in 1970, and became the chairman of the Senate Health Subcommittee. As early as the 1970s, he was already pushing for a single-payer healthcare system.
Kennedy's next major appearance in the national spotlight was during his presidential campaign against Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter. Kennedy ran an effective primary campaign against President Carter in 1980, but could never win enough support to unseat him. After it became apparent that Kennedy would not be able to obtain the Democratic nomination for president, he withdrew his candidacy.
After his abortive 1980 campaign, Kennedy concentrated all of his energy into the Senate. His efforts produced enormously beneficial and popular legislation, including lowering the voting age to 18, abolishing the draft and rewriting campaign finance laws following the Watergate scandal. In addition, Kennedy was a proponent of women's rights - specifically reproductive rights - and education. He also promoted the vastly influential Title IX Amendment.
Kennedy resumed his role in the Senate as a champion of health care in the 1990s with legislation such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which helped workers to keep their health insurance in the event of losing or changing jobs.
Furthermore, Kennedy was one of the main proponents of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which was the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded health insurance since Medicaid passed in the 1960s.
After fighting almost his entire life to reform the American health insurance system, Kennedy once again took up the standard to expand health coverage to more Americans.
Kennedy was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in May 2008, and battled it until his death on Aug. 25, 2009.
Kennedy's long and influential political tenure raises many questions. Do his faults outweigh his contributions? Does he deserve the praise he is receiving in the media? Many of the questions raised about his political career must be answered on an individual level. Everyone must form their own image of his time in the Senate based on the facts of career, and their own personal judgments.
It is my belief that Kennedy had an extremely beneficial career. His many achievements have done much to advance the causes of civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, workers rights and accessibility to health insurance in America.
Regardless of personal opinion, there is no doubt that Kennedy, the Liberal Lion of the Senate and one of the last New Deal Democrats, had an enormous impact on this country.