The Monitor's View

Ted Kennedy: A profile in resilience

The senator faced down family tragedy, personal recklessness, and political setbacks in his long efforts to serve the public.

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Ted Kennedy persevered.

Through family tragedy. Through personal recklessness. Through a long Senate career of fighting for liberal (but not only) causes: healthcare, social justice, education.

The world needs more of his kind of resilience in individuals who seek to help others, whether of the left or right. Setbacks and adversity can stalk, but those who face down hardship – soldiers, parents, and, yes, even politicians – are the ones who get things done. Even if they fail to achieve their goals, their stick-to-itiveness can inspire others.

Recommended: 'Mrs. Kennedy and Me': A Secret Service agent shares his memories

Edward Kennedy, the senator from Massachusetts who died Tuesday, had more to face than most people. He lost three brothers – one to war, two to assassinations. He tried to overcome the "Chappaquiddick" scandal of 1969, in which a young woman in his car drowned when the senator drove off a bridge and waited 10 hours before calling police.

In 1980, he lost a grueling primary battle to wrest the Democratic presidential nomination from then-President Jimmy Carter.

But his resilience carried him forward through a highly productive Senate career, a reminder of what a powerful platform the Senate can be with the right political skills – and longevity (nearly 47 years as a senator, the third-longest run in US Senate history). He was author or coauthor of more than 2,500 bills.

Kennedy's causes remained pure to the most liberal wing of his party, just as GOP figures like Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater kept an ideological purity when their own party moved toward the center in American politics.

Yet, as both a tactical move and out of genuine affection for other Republican politicians, the "liberal lion" worked jointly with the GOP on a few major bills – including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Teddy Kennedy had to show that his worth as a leader was based on more than the legacy of his family and their wealth. Indeed, he fought to control money's influence on politics. He introduced the first bipartisan campaign finance reform bill in 1973.

His statement at the funeral of his brother Bobby could be said of himself:

"My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."

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