Kennedy outlasted them all

Unlike his brothers, Ted Kennedy lived a full and complete life, dying from non-violent means.

A planeload of explosives blew Joe Kennedy to bits in the waning days of World War II. Assassins killed Jack and Bobby.

But Teddy survived, escaping almost sure political death when his car plunged off a bridge at Chappaquiddick and he swam to shore while political aide and rumored paramour Mary Jo Kopechne drowned. The incident killed his Presidential hopes in 1980 but not his ambition, his desire or his career in the Senate.

When he ran for President in 1980, Kennedy had already reached age 48 — older than any of his brothers at their deaths. He would live another 29 years and become a senior statesman of the Democratic party and a standard bearer for liberalism.

Like Jack, Teddy was a womanizer. Like some others in the Kennedy clan, he battled alcoholism but the younger brother that was considered the weakest of the four survived the odds before finally losing his battle with brain cancer at age 77. Even so, he lived longer than doctors predicted when they discovered the cancer 18 months ago.

Joseph Kennedy Sr. expected big things from three of his four sons, but not Teddy. Joe Jr., the anointed one, would — the old man predicted — become the first Irish Catholic President of the United States. The war ended that dream but Jack stepped in and beat the odds.

But powerful men breed powerful enemies and while the son of a bootlegger could become President, he could not escape an assassin’s bullet on Dallas in 1963.

Bobby took up the cause and appeared ready to cruise to victory in 1968 before another shot rang out and tragedy struck once more.

That left Teddy — the youngster, the lightweight that no one, including his father, thought had the grit to carry on the legacy. After Kopechne’s death, some predicted he would soon lose his Senate seat and fade into obscurity, but Kennedy outlasted the naysayers and held his seat for 47 years, much of that time spent trying to bring universal health care to life.

His death effectively brings a family dynasty to an end. His son, Patrick, is a Congressman but most consider him a political lightweight. Bobby’s son, Joseph Patrick Kennedy II, served in Congress for 12 years. Jack’s son ran a magazine before dying with his wife and a family friend when the plane he piloted went down at sea and Caroline Kennedy became a family embarrassment when she tried for an appointment to former Sen. Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat last year.

The Kennedy legacy died with Teddy Kennedy Tuesday night. Ironically, any real chance for serious health care reform may have died as well.