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.
August 26, 2009; 12:17 PM ET
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