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Obama lauds Kennedy as voice of poor and powerless

By | August 30th 2009

By Patricia Zengerle

BOSTON, Aug 29

US President Barack Obama praised Senator Edward Kennedy as a voice for the poor and powerless in a eulogy on Saturday that remembered his achievements as it avoided politicizing his death.

Obama hailed fellow Democrat Kennedy as a champion of the landmark Civil Rights Act, immigration reform and children's health care, but did not dwell on what the senator had called "the cause of my life" -- overhauling the US healthcare system.

Healthcare reform is Obama's top domestic priority, but amid faltering efforts to drive it through the Congress, the White House was wary of being seen to politicize Kennedy's death. It had said the president would not use the eulogy as an opportunity to rally support for his healthcare overhaul.

Speaking at Kennedy's funeral service at a Roman Catholic basilica in Boston, Obama called him "the soul of the Democratic Party and the lion of the US Senate" who had authored more than three hundred laws.

"He was a product of an age when the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of party and philosophy from becoming barriers to cooperation and mutual respect, a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots," said Obama, who has often bemoaned the deep partisan divide between his Democrats, who control Congress, and Republicans.

"And that's how Ted Kennedy became the greatest legislator of our time," he said.

In January 2008, Kennedy endorsed Obama, who was serving his first term as a senator, for the Democratic presidential nomination. Many saw the endorsement as the passing of the political torch to a new generation.

"I, like so many others in the city where he worked for nearly half a century, knew him as a colleague, a mentor, and above all, a friend," Obama said.

Kennedy's death leaves a void as Obama and his supporters push for his nearly $1 trillion plan to cover up to 46 million uninsured Americans, reduce insurance costs and introduce a government-run health insurance scheme. One of the last conversations between Obama and Kennedy was on the issue.

Obama interrupted his vacation on nearby Martha's Vineyard, an island off the Massachusetts coast, to attend Kennedy's funeral.


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