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A tale of two obituaries
Section One
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A tale of two obituaries

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Two politicians died this week, within hours of each other. One was very well known to Americans, one far less so. They had several things in common, and a few things not. Each of them had a profound effect on the country he helped to govern.

Ted Kennedy died of cancer on August 25. He lived a complicated life.

Like his brothers Jack and Bobby, he used his considerable oratorical gifts in the service of the Democratic Party and progressive political causes.

His "concession" speech at the 1980 Democratic Convention upstaged incumbent President Jimmy Carter. He shredded Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in a speech on the Senate floor in 1987. His speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention, with its echoes of the 1980 speech, electrified the country.

Like Jack and Bobby, Ted also had a self-destructive taste for alcohol, women, and reckless entertainments. The whole family left a trail of scandals in their wake.

But unlike his brothers, who cultivated a tough-guy approach to life and politics, Ted was also kind.

He was very rich, and like the very rich, he was very careless sometimes. But he had an affinity for ordinary people and for the most part he understood them. His own losses and griefs - of which there were many - seemed to make him want to help other people.

He was the driving force behind much of the legislation that shaped contemporary America - the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Ryan White AIDS Care Act of 1990, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, SCHIP in 1997, and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

Ted was one of only 14 Senators to vote against DOMA in 1996. He was one of 23 Senators who voted not to authorize the invasion of Iraq. He was the chief Senate sponsor of ENDA, of hate crimes legislation, and health care reform.

Democrats and Republicans alike admired Jack and feared Bobby, but they liked Ted, and he used the friendships he'd cultivated with Republican Senators to move legislation that would otherwise have gone nowhere.

He spent 44 years in the Senate, and was perhaps the most important Senator of modern times.

Abdul Aziz al Hakim died a few hours later, on August 26, also of cancer. He lived an uncomplicated life.

Like Ted Kennedy, he was the offspring of a powerful family. His father was Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al Hakim, until his death in 1970 the leading Shia religious scholar in Iraq.

Abdul Aziz was also a religious scholar of some standing, and had he lived he would one day have been recognized as an Ayatollah like his father.

Like the Kennedys, his family suffered for their political commitments. All seven of his brothers were assassinated.

Unlike Ted Kennedy, he never drank a drop of alcohol, nor so much as looked at a woman besides his wife. As far as anyone knows, he never once strayed from the simple commandments of his faith - not that he had much temptation in the mosques and madrassas where he spent most of his time.

Also unlike Ted Kennedy, he was not kind.

Abdul Aziz al Hakim was the commander of the Badr Brigade militia. He spent 30 years assassinating Baathists in retaliation for their assassinations of the members of his family.

Since the fall of his enemy Saddam Hussein, he organized gunmen to back up the coalition of Shia parties that now control the Iraqi government. Along with the rival Mahdi Army militia, the Badr Brigades have been accused of torturing and murdering scores of Gay Iraqis.

No one knows how history will ultimately judge Ted Kennedy or Abdul Aziz al Hakim. Maybe in the end it will depend on what happens to their countries. But it's interesting to note when and where parallel lives diverge.

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