THE BLOG
09/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This Will be a Difficult Seat to Fill

It appeared audacious when Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. engineered the selection of his relatively inexperienced son, Robert, as U.S. Attorney General by his older son John, who had just won the presidency. But the elder Kennedy had even more daring plans.

With one son in the White House and another in the Cabinet, the 73-year-old patriarch of the Kennedy klan wanted more, he wanted his youngest son Edward to succeed his brother in the U.S. Senate.

"You boys have what you want, now it's Teddy's turn," Kennedy told his older sons.

This seemed to be quite the long shot for two reasons. First, at 29 Ted was not old enough to replace his brother in the Senate. Second, he had held only one substantive job since law school, as one of 26 district attorneys in Suffolk County, Mass.

To get around the first problem JFK had a friend fill his vacated senate seat until his brother was old enough. To address the second, was the nom de famille, Kennedy.

As those challenging Kennedy stated during the campaign, if his name were Edward Moore, his candidacy would not be taken seriously, but his name was Kennedy and that made all the difference.

There is nothing comparable in contemporary politics. On its face, the candidacy of Edward Kennedy was far more outlandish than say, a B actor running for Governor of California and then becoming President of the United States.

But in 1962, Edward Moore Kennedy, with one brother President of the Untied States, another brother, Attorney General, and a father who was one of the richest people in the country, succeeded his brother as U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.

An auspicious beginning indeed, but it was certainly not one to be taken seriously by his Senate colleagues. With names like Hubert Humphrey, Estes Kefauver, and Everett Dirksen walking the Senate Floor, who knew that this freshman senator with scant political background, whose election to the senate had more to do with pedigree than experience, would ultimately be regarded as one of the great senators in history?

Kennedy, who lost his battle to brain cancer this week, leaves behind a legislative record unmatched by any of his senate colleagues.

On paper, he seemed less imposing, than his older brothers, but Ted Kennedy has the more impressive legislative record impacting the lives of more people than his siblings combined.

We know about the personal tragedies he endured in 1963 and 1968, the plane crash that nearly took his life 1964, and Chappaquiddick in 1969 that ultimately cost his dreams of higher office, not to mention other self-inflicted wounds. But this odd journey, pregnant with tragedy, may have been what Kennedy needed to find his true calling.

He was not his brothers, and they were not him.

Kennedy's name and imprint can be found on the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the expansion of the voting franchise to 18-year-olds; the $24 billion Kennedy-Hatch law of 1997, which provided health insurance to children with a new tax on tobacco; two increases in the minimum wage; the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill, which made health insurance portable for workers; the 1988 law that allocated $1.2 billion for AIDS testing, treatment and research; the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act; the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act.

Kennedy has also helped abolish the poll tax, fund cancer research and create the Meals on Wheels program for shut-ins and the elderly.

In 1985 Kennedy and Republican Lowell Weicker co-sponsored the legislation that imposed economic sanctions on the apartheid government of South Africa. The bill became law despite a filibuster by Jesse Helms and a veto by President Reagan. Kennedy then led the override of Reagan's veto by a margin of 78 to 21.

Now that legacy comes to an end. With the exception of a temporary proxy, for the first time since 1952, it is possible someone whose last name is other than Kennedy will hold that Senate seat from Massachusetts.

Filling that seat won't be easy because the charge for the next person has already been given by Kennedy himself:

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at byron@byronspeaks.com or visit his Web site, byronspeaks.com.