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Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Joe Biden was scheduled to talk about the stimulus or something today, but used the opportunity to talk about his friend instead. Off-the-cuff, unscripted, and very heartfelt:

Harold Meyerson:

He was, as he lay dying, new again. Ted Kennedy outlived the Reagan-Thatcher conservative era to which for so many years he led the opposition. He played a key role in putting Barack Obama in the White House, creating the possibility for a renaissance of American liberalism, the cause he led for the past four decades. He came to Washington one last time to vote for the kind of Keynesian stimulus that had been out of favor in the age of laissez-faire but that embodied, however imperfectly, Kennedy's belief that government had the ability and the duty to create an economy that not only mitigated capitalism's excesses but made it work for ordinary Americans.

He did not get to liberalism's promised land, of course. The universal health coverage he'd fought for throughout his career is still unrealized; his death may make it harder to realize, at least in the immediate months to come. Labor law remains unreformed, and America's 12 million undocumented immigrants still live in the shadows with no legal path to citizenship. These were all battles that Kennedy would have led; he was the go-to guy, the champion, the orator, the deal-maker for the uninsured, the undocumented, the unable-to-join-unions; the senior senator from Massachusetts and for all the excluded in American life.

More than any other American, Ted Kennedy kept liberalism's flame burning through the dark of the Reagan era. The liberals who continue his battles will need all the wit and smarts and joy and passion for justice that he brought to those fights.

Ronald Brownstein:

Kennedy became the Senate’s shrewdest assembler of bipartisan coalitions. He came to share, at a bedrock level, the belief that Lyndon Johnson articulated to biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin: “It is the politician’s task to pass legislation, not to sit around saying principled things.”

Actually, Kennedy (with the help of generations of great speechwriters like Robert Shrum) could articulate “principled things” as eloquently as anyone. What Kennedy understood is that there was no contradiction between soaring, uncompromising goals and the inevitably messier work of fashioning imperfect legislative compromises that nudged public policy a few feet down the road toward realizing those goals. Among the reams of outstanding personal reminisces of Kennedy that National Journal has collected today, former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, a pretty edgy partisan himself at times, captured that quality of Kennedy’s best: “The first obligation of a U.S. senator or congressman is to legislate,” Simpson said. “It means putting an idea into writing and then amending, and then hearings, and then floor management, and conference committees, and warding off vetoes. That’s what Ted did. He was a master legislator.”

Mark Schmitt:

There are two battling story lines about the career of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy: Here at the Prospect, we recall the Lion of Liberalism, treating his 1980 convention speech as the hinge of his long career. Meanwhile, on cable news, or in the hands of Dan Balz at The Washington Post, he is the icon of bipartisan compromise, whose close working partnership with Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah among others was legendary. Earlier this week, a number of Republicans including Hatch invoked a disingenuous, "if only Teddy were here" explanation for their intransigence on health reform, suggesting that all other Democrats lacked his ability to forge compromises.

My own exposure to Sen. Kennedy during the period I worked on the Hill was mostly at a distance, but I don't see those two approaches as being in any kind of conflict. I think that he was able to forge bipartisan deals because he knew his own heart so well. The deals -- such as the McCain-Kennedy partnership on immigration -- were not built around the idea of bipartisanship but on his vision of a just society, implemented through an imperfect and messy set of democratic institutions, involving a lot of people who don't agree with you.

It was a view of politics that wasn't built around any fixed conception of partisanship or how to get things done. The debate about whether to pass health care through reconciliation or through bipartisan compromise would probably seem misdirected to him. His approach to politics was evident: If you know where the country should go, every single day, every interaction with a colleague, might create a chance to get a little closer to it, and if you put your energy into every such opportunity, some of them will pay off.

During the Bush years, that approach could sometimes be turned against him. If he had known that the administration didn't intend to fund the No Child Left Behind legislation, he might not have lent his support in 2001, and his support for the Medicare prescription-drug legislation got it through the Senate, only to see his compromise completely wiped out in conference. It took him a while, as it did most liberals, to appreciate that there were no real opportunities in the Bush years, that steadfast opposition was the only honorable position. When Obama emerged as a colleague and presidential candidate, it was evident to Kennedy, though not as clear to others, that his approach to compromise and bipartisanship was similar to Kennedy's own, that it was based in the idea that if you have a clear vision of where you want to go, you can -- and should -- try to find common ground and opportunities for change with anyone you can.

As I watch health reform foundering once again, threatened by Democrats as much as by Republicans, it reminds me again that that spirit is shockingly hard to find in the U.S. Congress. I'd often look at senators, and especially long-serving staffers, and want to shake them by the lapels and demand to know, "Why are you here? Is the purpose of your life to get re-elected as easily as possible, or to help your boss get re-elected?" Health care has been left in the hands of people who could not answer that question.

The reason that Ted Kennedy might have been able to bring people together on health care and other reforms is precisely because of, not despite, the fact that he was a passionate liberal who knew exactly why he was where he was.

Bob Shrum gives the back story on his greatest speech, and it's coda given at the most recent Convention (Great stuff!)'s the Speech itself (audio and text)

Matt Yglesias:

Its closing line is, I think, crucially important: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

I’m never able to express myself nearly that well, but what I take Kennedy to be doing here is trying to offer an alternative to the boom-bust mentality that I think often overtakes American progressives. There’s a tendency to get extremely wound up with optimism about the imminent dawn of sudden and radical change for the better, and then intensely bitter, cynical, and depressed when that fails to materialize. The reality, however, is that change is hard. That’s not an excuse for the people who stand in its way, it’s the reality. But if you respond to the difficulty of making things better by giving up or getting frustrated, then it only gets harder.

Building a better country and a world is work—hard work—and it’s work that goes on. And on. And on.

Ted is also remembered for giving the eulogy at Bobby's funeral, quoting his brother at length:

Ezra Klein:

That speech is Ted Kennedy's voice speaking Robert Kennedy's words. It is one man echoing another. And it was Robert Kennedy, in turn, channeling so many more before him. In that, it is a fitting encapsulation of his life. Ted Kennedy was part of a tradition. A tradition that fought for social justice and equality, for decency and dignity, for peace between nations and for security within households. It did not begin with Ted Kennedy, and it does not end with him. The man may be irreplaceable. But the work can be carried on.

Edward Kenndy, 1932-2009

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