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Kennedy and Compromise


"Many Democrats loved Kennedy for the same reason that some Republicans hated him," writes Julian Zelizer. "He was a true believer in a political system that privileges compromise and the abandonment of principle. Kennedy was not that kind of politician and, for many Americans, that meant a lot."

What was important about Kennedy's career, though, was that he managed to marry compromise and principle. He was not a believer in lonely stands that underscored his purity. Nor was he a believer in compromising simply for the sake of compromise. Kennedy was the force behind No Child Left Behind and the failed effort at immigration reform. He brokered the deal behind the Children's Health Insurance Program and tried to pass the Patient's Bill of Rights. All this wasn't in spite of Kennedy's reputation as a committed liberal. It was because of it.

A Senate Finance Committee staffer once invited me to consider the fallout if Max Baucus had brokered No Child Left Behind, or tried to work with Bush on immigration. "But Kennedy is Kennedy," the staffer said, "so he's beyond reproach." And it's true: Kennedy was beyond reproach. Liberals generally trusted that the deal he got was the best deal possible. That's what made Kennedy a good guy to strike a deal with: His name on the bill brought actual votes and support. And that was only possible because his constituency trusted his compromises. That's not true for the figures left in the health-care debate, at least on the Senate side, and it's a real loss.

Photo credit: Reuters.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 26, 2009; 12:17 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Excellent. Kennedy never stopped telling us what his basic goals were. People trusted that a compromise was not an end in itself for Kennedy but a step on the journey. Max Baucus? In contrast, who knows what his goals are? As a Montanan, I think his goal in health care is to bob and weave till he can sneak out of Dodge with his ass in tact... and with a fat pile of retirement cash from lobbyists. And, lo and behold, Grassley know this.

Posted by: glewiss | August 26, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

You hit it right on the head, Ezra, about Kennedy, his appeal, and his following by the most liberal of liberals (like me).

His leadership is going to be very sorely missed.

Posted by: | August 26, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

You've posted this argument a few times now, and while I think it's correct as far as it goes, it also leaves a misleading impression. Namely, that Baucus's big problem is that liberals don't trust him like they trusted Kennedy.

This is true, but I think the problem is Baucus as a lead noegiator is not that liberals don't trust him, but that he doesn't deserve to be trusted. Every single thing he's done to date has had the effect of damaging the cause and prospect of health care reform.

It's become more and more clear that the biggest single thing standing in the way of getting a health reform bill out of the Senate is one Max Baucus. If Chuck Grassley or Trent Lott or Tom Coburn were in charge of negotiations rather than Baucus, the process would have looked absolutely identical.

Posted by: dt4211 | August 26, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

"He was a true believer [WITH]in a political system that privileges compromise and the abandonment of principle."

Copy editing, CNN, for crying out loud. The first 5 times I read this, I thought it was arguing that Kennedy's true beliefs were compromise and abandonment of principle.

Posted by: JEinATL | August 26, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

JEinATL: thanks, I was about to post the same thing. Copy editing, people!

Posted by: tomveiltomveil | August 26, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

but hey why "compromise" when you can change the laws back in your favor if Mass. has a highly democrat state senate and a sitting Democratic Govenor.

I wonder if they'd be changing this law (As Patrick has already said he'd do even before the body is cold) if Romney was still in office or another Republican?

No wait, i don't wonder, I KNOW THEY WOULDN'T

Principles are only principes when they apply to all of us not when they move an agenda to what some view as a greater good.

Just make sure when and if a Republican govenor is ever elected back in Mass. that the legislature changes the law back on his or her way in. You wouldn't want this messy debate you have that's already started.

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 26, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

when you got nothin' you got nothin' to lose.....max baucus has no principles, therefore nothing to lose. some people have no self initiative. those people need what we in the forest call....some self preservation incentive.

if ted were hale and hearty we would have passed decent health care reform already.

now that ted is gone, the president needs to step in and give max a shot of adrenalin.

it can be amazing how fast even a turtle like max can move when a presidential political hand grenade is tossed in its direction.

Posted by: problembear | August 26, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

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