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TRANSCRIPT: SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY: It is a sad and melancholy occasion that brings me here. The sudden and tragic death of my friend Walter Reuther has robbed the nation of one of our greatest leaders.
We could ill afford to lose him. Never before in my memory has there been such a crisis of confidence in our national leaders, such deep division among our people, such a prolonged loss of our sense of national purpose.
Abroad, we have the nightmare of Cambodia and its mad label of "Operation Total Victory." The Middle East moves to the brink of war. Hundreds of millions of human beings in Africa and Latin America struggle to survive the ancient evils of tyranny, poverty, ignorance, and disease.
At home, our universities are on strike. War and death come to the campus. A Cabinet officer complains, and the Administration asks him to sit tight, because the crisis, they say, will below over.
The ugly face of racism stalks the land. White America mourns its dead at Kent State, and the nation is moved to massive protest. Black America remembers Orangeburg, and asks, Why not before? Drug traffic moves from the ghetto to the suburb. White America is aroused and black America asks, Why not before?
Our cities decay. Our environment is defiled. Our schools don't teach. Our doctors don't heal. Our economy is in turmoil as prices rise and unemployment soars.
All our institutions are under attack, and justifiably so, because they have committed the greatest sin of public life, the loss of responsiveness to the people. The storm over the Supreme court has become a storm over the President. Many feel that the stand we are beginning this week in the Senzte is the only way out of Asia abroad, the only way out of our constitutional crisis at home.
Now, another giant leader has been taken from us, a man who knew our people well, a man who could guide us along the path we sought. Time and again, he demonstrated the priceless qualities of judgment and leadership that seem all too rare in public life at this crucial moment in our history.
Today, I know, Walter Reuther was to have told us of his plan for better health care in America, but we would have seen far more. The room would have been filled with all the eloquence and passionate commitment that made him respected and admired by generations of Americans. We would have seen the Reuther we knew, challenging America again, as he had so often in the past, to live up to its promise of equality and social justice for all our citizens.
More than other, Walter Reuther had a vision of a better America, and he dedicated his life to the quest. His vision began with the worker. The slogans of his battles captured the imagination of us all -- "too old to work and too young to die," "wage increases without price increases," "let's take a look at the books."
We have great talent for discoveries in medical science, but we have not yet found the talent and the will to put them into practice.
We know, and Walter Reuther was among the first to tell us, that health care in United States is the fastest growing failing business in America -- a $70 billion industry that fails to meet the needs of our people. Nowhere is the impact of the inflation that grips our economy more obvious than in the rising cost of medical care and health insurance.
The private health insurance industry, which organized labour and men like Reuther helped create and support, has failed us. It provides sickness insurance, not health insurance; acute care, not preventive care. It gives partial benefits, not comprehensive benefits. It fails to control costs. It fails to control quality. It ignores the poor and the medically indigent. In 1969, in spite of the fact that health insurance was a giant $12 billion industry, fully 40% of the bills for personal health expenditures in America were paid by direct payments from patients.
Today, however, is not the occasion to elaborate his program. What we can do is to pledge ourselves to fulfil his quest. In the days to come, when the Reuther proposal for national health insurance is put forward in detail, I believe it will become the single most important, imaginative and far-sighted legislation introduced in the 91st Congress, whether in health or any other area. In the years to come, when Congress finally responds to the demand of the American people for better health, the legislation we enact for national health insurance will be a living memorial to Walter Reuther. More than any other, he is responsible for its present public momentum. Strange as it seems, future historians of America may well record that in the United States of the Nineteen Sixties, it was Walter Reuther who first saw that the time had come to bring American medicine into the twentieth century.
To be so cruelly deprived of his extraordinary talent, especially now when this aspect of his work was nearing fruition, is a heavy loss to all of us concerned with the quality of health care in America.
More than this, his tragic death is a loss to all of us concerned with the quality of our American society. No man's work is ever finished. If today we see further, if today we see more clearly the need of America for peace, for better health, for better education, for better cities, it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants like Walter Reuther. We who live will carry on his works. We will rededicate ourselves to his ideals, and to the ideals of the other great leaders we have lost. We can succeed, but only if we make his commitment our commitment, his dream our dream.
In closing I would like to honour Walter Reuther with a brief tribute, by reading from the passage near the end of "Pilgrim's Progress," which tells of the death of Valiant:
"Then, he said, I am going to my Father's; and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not regret me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can gets it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me, that I have fought his battle who now will be my rewarder.
"When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the river side, into which as the went he said, 'Death, where is thy sting?' and as he went down deeper, he said, 'Grave, where is thy victory?' So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side."
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