Friday, August 28, 2009

RIP Ted Kennedy, the Liberal Lion

I was somewhat surprised and saddened to hear that Senator Kennedy had passed away. He was one of the first politicians that I noticed once I became aware of politics. This was all but inevitable given his larger-than-life presence as the de facto leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. I credit him for fighting tirelessly for what he believed, which generally was in direct opposition with my political views. But such consistency and dedication demands respect, and I gladly give him that, even though I oppose most of what he tried to accomplish. I also give him credit (which Senator Kennedy probably wouldn't want to accept) for running against President Carter in 1980 and weakening his reelection bid, which probably helped Ronald Reagan win the presidency. I don't know if Reagan would have won without the Senator's help, but I'm glad we never had to find out.

My strongest impression of Senator Kennedy actually comes courtesy of a former professor of mine. He was a strong Democrat teaching in Utah, and he was also a realist with a sense of humor. Rather than waste his presidential vote in Utah on the Democratic nominee, he would have some fun with his neighbors by voting for the Communist Party nominee, leaving them to worry who was the communist sympathizer in their midst. But I digress.

The connection to Senator Kennedy was not via the Communist Party, but a comment the professor made to me and some other students. He made a point of highly praising the Senator for his speech at the mid-term Democratic convention in 1978, in which he called out liberal Democrats and urged them to stand up for what they believed. I never bothered to look up the speech until yesterday--the Internet was still in its infancy at the time--but it lives up to its billing.

It's a magnificent speech and probably gave President Carter a severe case of heartburn. Perhaps some day when I can stomach it, I'll look for a video or audio clip to get the full effect. Much of his speech dealt with health care and would fit quite nicely into the current debate. Yet it also suffers from the same utter disregard of basic principles of economics that characterizes many of the current health care proposals. But perhaps that best expresses my thoughts of the Senator: I admire his idealism and his relentless pursuit of his ideals, just not his ideals. Rest in peace, Senator.

Related Links
Caricature by John Cox at For the full size, click the thumbnail.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, "Health Care for All: A Right Not a Privilege," December 9, 1978.

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