Page last updated at 21:55 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 22:55 UK

Kennedy death marks end of an era

By Richard Lister
BBC News, Washington

Boston newspaper front pages, 26 August 2009
The US media gave the impression of the passing of an icon

Millions of Americans turned on their morning news shows on Wednesday to sombre voices and solemn music marking the death of Senator Edward Kennedy.

The American flag is at half-mast over Capitol Hill, the White House and other Federal buildings. The airwaves and internet are full of mostly glowing tributes to one of America's most influential politicians.

Those conservatives who regarded his politics with disdain (and there are many) seem to have acknowledged that it is too soon to be discussing their true feelings about the "Liberal Lion" of the Senate.

So the overall impression in the American news media is of the passing of an icon.

The tributes were led by a "heartbroken" President Barack Obama, who summed up the senator's achievements by saying that "for five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts".

Bipartisan appeal

That praise has been echoed across the Democratic Party, of which the senator from Massachusetts was a central pillar.

While there were few political issues on which he and I agreed, our relationship was never disagreeable
House Republican leader John Boehner

But Ted Kennedy was also skilled in working with his political opponents to advance causes in which he believed; with then President George W Bush on education reform, Republican presidential candidate John McCain on immigration, and the conservative Republican Senator Orrin Hatch on a range of social initiatives.

He had passionate disagreements with Republicans over policy but still engendered great affection from his political adversaries.

The deeply conservative House Republican Leader, John Boehner said: "While there were few political issues on which he and I agreed, our relationship was never disagreeable."

Nancy Reagan spoke of the "great respect" her late husband President Ronald Reagan had for Senator Kennedy and the friendship she had enjoyed with him.

Senator McCain said Ted Kennedy's accomplishments would outlast those of his more famous brothers.

Healthcare challenge

One accomplishment which remained frustratingly out of his reach was universal healthcare - which Senator Kennedy described as the cause of his life.

Archive photo of Edward Kennedy and Barack Obama, April 2009
Ted Kennedy will be hard to replace as an advocate for healthcare reform

He was working on a healthcare bill for President Obama right into his final months and his death leaves a significant vacuum at the head of that effort.

Mr Obama had initially hoped to recruit another veteran Congressional dealmaker, Tom Daschle, to help overhaul healthcare, but Mr Daschle was forced to withdraw over allegations of unpaid taxes.

That left Senator Kennedy to carry the burden of negotiations in Congress.

Who will replace him as the figurehead for this effort is unclear.

Few - if any - congressional Democrats can match his stature, his experience or his ability to reach across the political aisle.

Having made healthcare reform a centrepiece of his Presidency, Mr Obama has lost one of its key advocates and his uphill battle to get support for a universal healthcare bill has become even steeper.

Dynasty 'over'

There is also a sense here of the end of an era.

For more than 60 years there has been a Kennedy at the forefront of the Democratic party - often as kingmaker.

Archive photo from 1962 of Robert F Kennedy (l), Edward M Kennedy (c) and John F Kennedy (r)
There has long been a Kennedy at the forefront of the Democratic Party

Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama over his long time friend and ally Hillary Clinton was a key turning point in the presidential race, and his advice and influence were traditionally sought by aspiring Democrats.

He has no obvious successor. Ted Kennedy's son Patrick, a congressional representative from Rhode Island has battled alcoholism and illness, and has not embraced the limelight.

Neither have other Kennedys of his generation.

The only surviving child of former President John F Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, had been tipped to fill Hillary Clinton's New York Senate seat but was roundly criticised in the press and withdrew to private life.

Her brother John F Kennedy junior - who inherited much of the personal magnetism of his father - was killed in an air crash in 1999.

Asked about who would lead the Kennedy dynasty now, a long time family friend, the former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, told his paper: "I think it's over."

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