There has been much commentary that the Senate debate on health care would have benefited from the parliamentary and personal skills of Senator Ted Kennedy had he been present over the months of illness that took his life last night. But it would have benefited even more from his moral clarity.
He knew - better than anyone - that the debate over health care is not mainly about competing policies, programs and formulas. It is certainly not about the myths and lies propounded by the far right. He knew it is about right and wrong.
The decision facing America is whether - at long last - we will inscribe into our law the principle that health care is a human right - that everyone among us deserves health care simply because we are all human beings.
Ted Kennedy believed that to his core. It was his life's passion. It would be fitting if his passing itself served to refocus the health care debate on the moral principle that lies at its center. It would be his last great contribution to the struggle that more than any other defined his 47-year career in the Senate - the battle to make health care for all a reality in America.
Yesterday, many Americans watched footage from a health town meeting conducted by Senator Tom Coburn. We watched as a woman begged Coburn for help so that her husband could afford the care he needs to recover from the affects of traumatic brain injury. Coburn offered the aid of his office. But then he argued that the real problem is that neighbors don't help neighbors --that we should not depend upon "government."
Kennedy knew - as his friend Congressman Barney Frank says - that Government is nothing more than the name we give to the things we choose to do together.
He knew that it is wrong for any American to have to beg to get health care for their husband - or their child - or themselves. Just wrong.
We can debate the relative effectiveness of structures and the systems of incentives needed to most efficiently provide the health care we need. But there should no longer be any debating the fundamental principle that all of us deserve the same quality health care - no matter how much we earn, or who our parents are, or where we live, or the color of our skin, or how old or sick we may be.
That principle is accepted worldwide as a central element of what it means to live in a civilized society. It is a core tenant of what we understand to be universal human rights.
Yet the Republicans and far right have fought against the implementation of that principle in America ever since Roosevelt first called for universal health care in the 1930s. They fought it under Truman. They fought Medicare when it was passed as a first step to fulfilling that principle in the 1960s. They fought the State Children's Health Care Program that expanded that principle to children.
Their rhetoric is always the same. Ronald Reagan's speeches against Medicare in the 1960s - his charges that Medicare would lead to socialism and tyranny - could just as easily be transcriptions of the talk show tirades of Limbaugh and many Republican members of the Senate today.
But this time things will be different. This time the spirit of Edward Kennedy will infuse all of us with the determination and moral clarity to make his life's passion into the law of the land.
Robert Creamer is a longtime political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.
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