I have no intention, of course, of speaking ill of the dead; far from it. I am perfectly happy to assume that Ted Kennedy loved his country–as I am sure that he must have–and that he did everything within his power to better it, as his conscience dictated. But now that his legislative legacy is being cited as a reason to pass health care reform, it is well and proper to state that much of that legacy is open to dispute.
Thus, my latest column for the New Ledger. A sample:
There can be no doubt that Ted Kennedy will be remembered in the history books as one of the most consequential people to have ever served in the United States Senate. After a pronounced period of irresolution in his private life that manifested itself into a lack of seriousness in his public service, Kennedy finally learned that it would never be enough to just be a Senator; he had to do something while serving. It took Robert Byrd ousting him as Senate Majority Whip in 1971, and Jimmy Carter delivering on his promise to “whip [Kennedy's] ass” in the fight for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1980 to do it, but at long last, Ted Kennedy became a serious United States Senator, and an acknowledged legislative grandmaster, one who was both comfortable with the procedures and rules of the United States Senate, but with the substance of legislation as well.
No one doubts the legislative skill Kennedy ended up showing. And no one doubts that he acted as his conscience dictated on the issues of the day. But while we can and should celebrate his life, and tip our hats to his service–even if, like me, we find ourselves on the opposite side of the political divide from where Ted Kennedy spent a lifetime standing–we ought to view his legislative legacy with a critical eye.