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Teddy

A Commentary by Susan Estrich

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I have been holding my breath for a while, sending out little messages, waiting for the updates on Sen. Kennedy.

He said he would be there to watch the man he had supported, the carrier of the torch, take his oath as president of the United States of America. Most people, diagnosed with what he had, facing what he did, could not have imagined standing there in the stands, still a part of history. Teddy dreamed it, and there he was.

Then he collapsed at the lunch.

Maybe it was only a momentary setback. Maybe he'll be back in the Senate, this week or next, fighting for the sort of universal health insurance that 30 years ago when I worked for him people laughed at him for daring to support. Don't put it in the 1980 platform, for God's sake, I was told more than once. Do you want people to call Carter a socialist?

Teddy has always been a man ahead of his times.

Oh, yes, he made mistakes -- big ones, huge ones, in his personal life. But when does the statute of limitations finally run out? When can I celebrate my first boss in politics without getting mired in a 40-year-old tragedy? He did wrong. He made amends. He spent the rest of his life making amends. It is more than I can say for most of the people I have known in politics.

I hope he was smiling, full of life, feeling the triumph on the Capitol steps this morning. I hope it brought back, with joy and not pain, memories of earlier days, of half a century ago when his brother held his hand in the air. I hope he could be full of the hope that someday that brother's daughter would be standing with them in the Senate chambers.

It is hard for me to imagine a Senate without Ted. It is hard for me to imagine how hard he must have tried to get through the lunch, to get through the day, just that one day, without succumbing to his illness. If anyone could do it, he could. If he could not, it is because it couldn't be done.

There is no such thing, beyond a very young age, as pure joy. There is always the nagging sense of what's missing and who: for Barack Obama, no doubt, the mother and the grandmother who raised him, neither of whom lived to see him take the oath; and the senator who championed him, who blessed him with the most powerful legacy in Democratic politics and could not make it through lunch. We take the bitter with the sweet, because otherwise there would be no sweet.

Godspeed, Senator. Strength and peace. You deserve them. You made it, in more ways than one.

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