After the 1994 Republican sweep of the House and Senate, an undeterred Kennedy set his sights on increasing the minimum wage, which had remained stagnant since 1991. He pulled together a bipartisan coalition of Senators and Representatives that overcame the opposition of the Republican leadership. When the Democrats returned to power in 2006, Kennedy quickly seized the opening to drive for another increase. Of course, a minimum wage of $5.85 an hour is paltry enough -- especially considering that most of the recipients don't have health insurance -- but that's the what happens when the party in power aims to make the rich richer at the expense of the poor and middle class.
Kennedy's signature issue for decades, though, has been his desire to make health care available to all. Because of him, Americans have increasingly come to understand health care access as a human right, not as a privilege determined by economic status. Although Kennedy has never succeeded in passing universal health care legislations, he driven or helped drive a number of important incremental improvements, including:
- the Kennedy-Hatch bill, which extended health care to children by increasing the tobacco tax
- the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill, which allowed portability of health care
- the Americans With Disabilities Act
- the Family and Medical Leave Act
As a cancer survivor myself, I've learned a little about it in recent years. The older one is, the slower the tumor grows. Glioma can be managed and the victims can live productive lives unless the tumor is a glioblastoma, which in Kennedy's case has yet to be determined. These star-shaped tumors metastasize rapidly with tentacles the extend as the tumor grows. We can only that this isn't the case.
Some years back, I spent a few days visiting an aunt living on Cape Cod. The day before I left, she asked me if there was anything in particular that I wanted to see. The Kennedy Compound, I replied. My recollection is that the compound is inaccessible other than by driving the wrong way down a network of one-way streets, but my aunt knew of a vantage point from which we could view most of the buildings. There in the gloaming, hands in pockets, stood a familiar figure watching a niece or nephew play in the surf. The paunch and the side walls identified one of the world's most powerful men enjoying a quiet family moment, just like anyone else. Although I couldn't but think that he must be considering some way that he could help better the lives of his fellow Americans.