Senator Edward M. Kennedy died last night at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Senator Kennedy had been in the Senate since 1962. My sympathies go out to his family.
In looking at Senator Kennedy’s record in the Senate, there are a few things that should be mentioned. Senator Kennedy was a powerful member of the Senate and worked tirelessly to enact programs that agreed with his vision of America. He also personified the politics of personal destruction used against Republican Supreme Court nominees. He was the driving force in the 1987 defeat of Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Senator Kennedy made a speech forty-five minutes after Robert Bork’s nomination declaring:
“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is — and is often the only — protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy… President Reagan is still our president. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice”
The charges were totally unfounded, but the speech worked, and America lost a truly great Supreme Court Justice. This was the beginning of the politicalization of the nomination process. The campaigns of personal destruction were attempted again with Clarence Thomas and others, but failed.
Ted Kennedy spent his life working for what he believed would be a better America, that is to his credit, but he also played a very strong role in the loss of civility of American politics.