Capitol threat: Kennedy served the public despite the dangers

Written by Susan Mannella on .

The late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was the target of death threats for much of his political life, according to FBI files released this week. It's no surprise.

His older brothers — President John F. Kennedy and U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy — were felled by assassins' bullets in the prime of their lives. For Mr. Kennedy, the fact that they were twin national tragedies was surpassed by the trauma of his profound personal loss.

For decades, Ted was the last of the fabled Kennedy brothers. Because of that, the Massachusetts senator became a symbol of fascination to millions and an object of hatred to a deranged few.

But politics was the family business and Mr. Kennedy had every intention of excelling at it. At the time of his death last year, he was one of the hardest-working and longest-serving senators in American history. Politicians on both sides of the aisle routinely referred to him as the one indispensable colleague. His leadership during the health care debate and his decades-long tenure as a liberal icon earned him the nickname "Lion of the Senate."

Still, Mr. Kennedy wouldn't have been human if he didn't flinch at unexpected sounds or sudden bangs. His family paid a terrible price for allowing its sons to go into public service, and they were nervous about Ted's decision to challenge President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination in 1980.

The bulk of the FBI's 2,352 pages on Mr. Kennedy from 1961 to 1985 chronicle the numerous threats against him. If anyone would have been justified in keeping a lower profile, it would have been the senator. It's a testament to Edward Kennedy's sense of public service that he didn't.

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