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Missing Ted Kennedy

M2X00199_9.JPGMatt Yglesias and Kevin Drum are discussing what Ted Kennedy could have meant to the final weeks of this debate. Both agree that he would be voting for the Senate bill, and Drum notes that "One of Kennedy's great regrets in life was not accepting Richard Nixon's proposal to provide universal healthcare in 1971. He changed his mind in 1973 and came close to cutting a deal with Nixon, but by then AMA opposition combined with the distraction of Watergate took it off the table, not to return for another two decades ... So you really hardly have to guess here."

I'd make the point a different way. Kennedy's seat is currently occupied by Paul Kirk. Before Kirk's appointment, he served as the chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, and a member of the board of directors of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. He is as pure a Kennedy surrogate as could possibly be constructed. And he has not even broached voting against this bill.

But the issue is not so much Kennedy's vote as his absence. If you know the health-care debate really well, it means a lot to say that Jay Rockefeller and Sherrod Brown support this bill. If you don't know the debate very well, it means virtually nothing. Kennedy was the only liberal with the stature to sell a painful compromise to the base. Would he have succeeded? I'm skeptical. As one of the authors of No Child Left Behind and the original draft of the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit (though he opposed the conference report of that bill), he would have come under withering attack as a sell-out. I'm not sure we ever could have been anywhere but here. But if other paths were available, Kennedy would have been the one to find them.

Photo credit: By Jason Reed/Reuters

By Ezra Klein  |  December 17, 2009; 11:43 AM ET
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Next: Shoud the White House have been firmer on the public option?


Instead we have irresponsible prima donna bomb throwers like Howard Dean, Joe Lieberman, and Ben Nelson.

Posted by: cmpnwtr | December 17, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

OK Ezra. I can only take so much condescension from the so-called "policy wonk" left. Paul Kirk is so weak politically that he'd be the last person in the Senate to stick his neck out to oppose the Senate bill. You know this, since you're a bright guy, so why are you trying to convince progressives that Paul Kirk's support is actually like Ted Kennedy talking from the grave?

I understand and respect your defense of what's on the table, but this just simply isn't great public policy and it's horrible politics. Stick to the "it's a compromise, and all compromises stink, so let's just pass it" because the rest is just a dog and pony show that makes you look less than honest.

Posted by: besmit02 | December 17, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Big Media Matt, Kevin(I was for Iraq war before I was against it) and Baby Ezra = The Psychic Friends Network.

Posted by: Canonera | December 17, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

It's a sad state of affairs when you believe that an alleged hard-drinking womanizer, who could have probably been charged in a suspicious death would be the person to bring the party together. There is something a bit strange here.

Posted by: my4653 | December 17, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, I agree with your take on where we are, at this point, in the politics of HCR. If the bill were as emasculated as some think, or as potentially fiscally damaging as the really dumb among us (Mitch McConnell, for instance) contend, then we wouldn't see the pathetic, sad-loser delay tactics that are now marched out by Republicans in the Senate.

This is a huge defeat for the Right, no matter what sanguine or smug look they screw their faces into. The threat for the stingy SOBs is that, when the bill is law, it will be improved and, at some point in history, made pretty much whole. They will not be able to take any credit for such an outcome and when people are praising the effects of the HCR that is being born now, the Republican party, Joe Lieberman and the "responsible" moderates will be seen for the petulant punks that they are, willing, as it were, to commit double-suicide because nobody would feel sorry for them.

As for what Kennedy could bring, look at this video of Teddy on the Senate floor not so long ago haranguing the Republicans for - guess what? - obstruction and delay.

Posted by: yourpooruncle | December 17, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

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