09/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ted Kennedy: A Reason To Rejoice

Much is said today, as Senator Ted Kennedy is memorialized, about his extraordinary service to our nation, and I too rejoice in that. But I have an entirely different reason to celebrate today, even as we all mourn the passing of this remarkable man.

It was 1980, when Senator Kennedy ran for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, when I first met him. I held some private-sector leadership positions, and the nonprofit presidency of Common Cause Maryland, and was invited, with a group of like people, to meet with Kennedy on Capitol Hill. I arrived at the appointed hour, just as Kennedy entered the meeting room overflowing with invited guests and thrice that number of lookers-on.

As he faced the group, a look of absolute terror overcame him. Let me be clear: I have never in my long life seen as much terror on the face of anyone. He made sustained eye contact with every one of us, in turn, in total silence, a process taking several minutes.

One could not help but recall the day 12 years earlier when Bobby Kennedy was shot dead in a similar setting in California. One could not help but recall the November Friday in 1963 when President Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas.

Finally, Ted Kennedy relaxed and spoke of his great dreams for the nation -- for the people. He was inspiring in exactly the same way Dr. King was inspiring. It wasn't merely his words or rhetorical flourishes or oratorical skill. No, with Kennedy as with King, you knew you were listening to intonations of his heart -- or dare I say, of his soul.

Of course, this brought to mind the shock of April 4, 1968, when Dr. King was shot dead in Memphis. One began to intuit a deeper understanding of the intense terror on Ted Kennedy's face a few minutes earlier. I, for one, verged on visibly trembling.

Years later, when Robert Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987 and Kennedy was the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, I provided an obscure academic work I'd completed a decade earlier on the meaning of the 9th Amendment to the Constitution, about unenumerated rights, and suggestions for inquiry on that subject. To my great surprise, Kennedy, in his open-mindedness, used the information during the hearings.

Much is said today, as Senator Kennedy is memorialized, about his long and extraordinary service to our nation. But with all that, I rejoice today for a different reason.

Thank God Almighty, he died peacefully.

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