And then there’s Massachusetts, where Kennedy helped engineer the compromise that brought health insurance coverage to most of the state’s residents. As we have pointed out in our series Health Reform Lessons from Massachusetts, not everyone in the state is pleased. Mistakes have hurt the safety net hospitals, tax penalties have hurt uninsured residents, and, most important, the lack of serious cost control coupled with run-away medical costs threaten the law’s long-term viability. In the end, Massachusetts may not be a model for the rest of the country. But there’s no denying that, in the meantime, thousands of people who needed medical care have received it over the past few years.

Reviewing all this in the context of the current nasty, exceedingly partisan, and manipulative rhetoric about health care makes me think about what Kennedy might have said if we had had our interview. He probably would have said it was better to help some people and keep trying for more down the road. He might have said that journalists need to continue reporting on the laws he did manage to pass, and what’s needed to make them better.

It would be great for news outlets looking for a respite from town hall shouting matches to use the occasion of Kennedy’s death to remind their audiences of what the HIPAA law can do to help them. It would be helpful for them to put the drug companies’ deal with the president in the context of the shortcomings of the prescription drug law. Writing about all those kids left out of the SCHIP expansion may help remind why universal health coverage, no longer the objective of health reform, is still important. And reporters need to examine and re-examine what’s really happening in Massachusetts, especially if Congress tries to replicate the provisions of its law without addressing its considerable problems.

He might have reminded me of what his brother Bobby once said when he paraphrased George Bernard Shaw: “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and say why not?”

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.