At the 1980 Democratic convention, during what was probably the first election I was maturely aware of*, Ted Kennedy conceded to Jimmy Carter in what has become known as “The Dream Shall Never Die” speech. Its closing words were a reminder to all who care about economic justice, the centerpiece of that campaign: “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.”
Now is a time to remember that Ted Kennedy was a longtime champion of universal health care for Americans. Here in 2009, our nation is on the brink of solving or being swamped by a terribly broken health care system. Here’s what Ted Kennedy said about that 29 years ago in the “last great speech of Camelot” — marking its priority by placing it at the crescendo of his speech: (listen at 5:47)
Finally, we cannot have a fair prosperity in isolation from a fair society. So I will continue to stand for a national health insurance. We must — We must not surrender — We must not surrender to the relentless medical inflation that can bankrupt almost anyone and that may soon break the budgets of government at every level. Let us insist on real controls over what doctors and hospitals can charge, and let us resolve that the state of a family’s health shall never depend on the size of a family’s wealth.
The President, the Vice President, the members of Congress have a medical plan that meets their needs in full, and whenever senators and representatives catch a little cold, the Capitol physician will see them immediately, treat them promptly, fill a prescription on the spot. We do not get a bill even if we ask for it, and when do you think was the last time a member of Congress asked for a bill from the Federal Government? And I say again, as I have before, if health insurance is good enough for the President, the Vice President, the Congress of the United States, then it’s good enough for you and every family in America.
LBJ took advantage of JFK’s death to push through civil rights laws like the Voting Rights Act. Will President Obama be able to seize the moment to create a legacy for Ted Kennedy by getting health care rights established once and for all with a system of universal health care coverage in the United States?
* I was only 11 years old, but I lived in Washington, D.C. where politics is as common a subject of discussion as the weather, even for kids.