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This morning, as I was riding to work on the bus, I was flanked by two older gentlemen with daily newspapers. We started to chat about current events and I mentioned that Ted Kennedy had passed away during the night. One of the older gentlemen says, “Yes, well, I hope at least this can help this whole health care mess.” As we three continued to talk, they discussed how happy they were with care at the VA, how they didn’t understand how Americans as a society could turn their backs on each other, how a few bad eggs were derailing the conversation, turning it into an anarchic free-for-all.

Watching the media, I too have been troubled by the darkening tone towards any fundamental change in healthcare. I have been worried that we may have a whole lot of reform and not a lot of change. Perhaps, however, my bus companion is right; maybe we now have a rallying point. I sometimes find myself mired in doubt. Don’t Americans want fairness, equity, a just society? I sometimes wonder if I am just deluded about what Americans want. Listening to the vitriol, I wonder if I just live in some insulated pocket and am out of touch with what people really think. And then I ride the bus, and I get to hear that I am not alone.

I am ambivalent towards Ted Kennedy as a person. As a member of a younger generation, I have never felt a personal connection to the Kennedy mystique, as heretical as that sounds. But we are all human, and it’s our choices which define us. And, in his final days, as I knew he was dying, his commitment to equity and justice moved me. He called healthcare reform, “the cause of my life.” Instead of summarizing his mission, I will let the man speak for himself,

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 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.

I would direct anyone who has felt downhearted at the recent turn-of-events to go to this site: Doctors for America and read some of the moving comments from physicians around this country. I think we do have an obligation to speak up and speak out. I hope that we can learn from his deeply personal commitment to justice and fairness and continue to push for real change. The hard work is still ahead, and though we are now one voice short, I too am dedicated to these ideals. It is good to know that I am not alone, not on the bus, not in my office, not in my country. It’s good to know.

Ted Kennedy was a masterful negotiator and understood the importance of compromise, but never let political maneuvering interfere with his primary goal. He said that his greatest regret as a Legislator was turning down President Nixon’s offer for a universal health plan. The most meaningful tribute we can make to Senator Kennedy, and to all of those who have carried the standard of health care reform, is to continue the hard work and the good fight. To listen to the concerns of older citizens who worry about losing coverage, those who are concerned with rationing and death panels, and speak to them honestly and plainly, and appeal to the common sense and decency that I believe still lives in the hearts and homes of America.

Chrissy Kistler

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