Susan Estrich: Prayers Are With Ted Kennedy

The big news for Democrats on Tuesday was supposed to be the primaries in Kentucky and Oregon, and how close Obama would come to the nomination, and what it all meant for Florida and Michigan, and for women, and of course for the fall election. But it wasn’t, at least not for this Democrat. The race for the White House was overshadowed by something bigger.


The morning brought the news that Senator Edward M. Kennedy, EMK or “the Senator” or Teddy, as those of us who worked for him and care for him call him, had gotten the worst possible explanation for the seizures he suffered on Saturday, the one that everyone dreads when they hear about seizures, the one that you pray will be ruled out right away so that more mundane, more treatable causes can be considered.

In retrospect, we all told each other, in the hundreds of calls that burned up wires on Tuesday, we should have known that no news for two days was not good news, that if they had ruled out the worst, we might have heard something, that the silence should have been a warning. We consoled ourselves that if anyone could fight this thing, it was the man who has been fighting for others, for what he believes in, for most of his life and now will bring that strength to the fight for his own life.

Don’t lose hope was the official unofficial word, maybe it’s at least a small terrible tumor, maybe there could be surgery or a vaccine, even though no one was really talking about surgery or a new vaccine. It’s just the “first inning,” his wife Vicki wrote in a widely circulated and reprinted e-mail.

The evening brought the news that Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter’s boy wonder who at 63 was no longer a boy, but certainly not old, had died after a twenty-two year fight with cancer, after 150 trips to the hospital and six different cancers and after becoming an inspiration to so many with his stunning book, “Never a Bad Day.” It wasn’t true, of course, as he explained at the Atlanta Press Club last March, during his own “ninth inning,” as one friend described it. There were in fact many bad days, bad years, but Hamilton persevered, endured, until he couldn’t. Such is the game of life.

I got to see Hamilton Jordan in action up-close during the 1980 campaign, when I was working for Ted Kennedy. It was a bitter, long, hard fought battle. Kennedy is a helluva fighter. Jordan was a helluva fighter. No quitters, either of them. We fought until the Convention lights dimmed.

And, of course, in the end, neither won.

That’s how it is with some fights. You can do your damndest and it doesn’t matter.

The prayers of the nation are with Ted Kennedy. He gave the “thumbs up” sign as he left the hospital on Wednesday and like people everywhere who know and love the Senator, I’ll be rooting for him and praying for him and telling myself that if anyone can “beat” this thing, he can.

Then again, I know that if anyone could beat this thing, Hamilton Jordan could. He wrote the book on beating cancer, literally. And in the end, he couldn’t.

As one who has watched people I love battle this horrible disease, and not always win, I understand that there are limits to the “fight” analogy, and dangers in it as well. Fighting cancer is not just about spirit and courage and determination, not just a matter of faith in God, or pure and simple luck.

It is about science and cells, about learning more than we do now by spending more than we do now to conquer a disease – really a host of diseases – that people can only fight so valiantly on their own. Beating cancer is not a test of resolve; it is a matter of what weapons we have and whether there are new treatments and new vaccines that can work where old ones didn’t. It’s not a test of the will of the patient, not a measure of their determination, but of ours.

No one has fought harder to provide funding for health care and medical research, and health insurance for all, than Ted Kennedy. Maybe he will be the beneficiary of all that now. He deserves to be.

So did Hamilton, of course, who has spent much of the last two decades raising money for cancer research, and giving hope to people fighting cancer, showing them the ropes, holding out hope for those facing terrible prognoses. May he rest in peace. If beating cancer were about the strength of the fighter, or his will or determination or courage, he’d still be with us. That he isn’t is a measure of the power of cancer, and the continuing necessity for those of us lucky enough not to be facing it to fight instead to find more weapons for the arsenal.

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "The Case for Hillary Clinton," "How to Get Into Law School," "Sex & Power," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women."

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the "Blue Streak" column for