Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Liberal Gipper

Teddy n Dennis 1971

My mother was in love with the Kennedy mystique, especially with JFK.And while I am close to Dennis Perrin's age, Dennis being similarly impressed with Teddy, I nevertheless have difficulty sharing his enthusiasm, or my late mother's. Dennis rightly notes Carter's rightward tilt, and certainly Carter started some of the unfortunate deregulation that Reagan subsequently kicked into high gear. All the same, I don't think Carter was as ideologically indistinguishable from Reagan as Obama seems compared to McCain-- and I wonder to what degree we have Teddy Kennedy's hubris in staying in the democratic race just past the bitter end to thank for Reagan being elected in 1980.

From my vantage point it seems that a lot of left-wing bloggers who frequently bash Obama, however right they may be in doing so, often have something of a tin ear when it comes to "less-sexy" domestic policy issues. If they praise Kennedy for being to the left of Carter and a "liberal lion", I can't help but think that they fail to see Kennedy's blindness in dealing with Obama and his wretched, poisonous, healthcare plan. The ancient Greeks used to say you could not judge the quality of a man's life until his very last breath. My primitive understanding of Western classical culture being what it is, I think they were talking about the private,personal quality of life the person experienced, as opposed to the person's public character, so it's an ill-fitting metaphor-- but I'll use it.

Yes, Ted Kennedy did some good things, like help foster the COBRA healthcare act, but he himself described universal healthcare as the cause of his life, and if you judge him by what he did to help usher it in towards the end, he blew it pretty badly.

Read his July 18th essay in Newsweek, also entitled "The cause of my life" in which he criticizes Jimmy Carter for what he calls his piecemeal approach in 1980, and says, regarding the current legislative effort, that "Incremental measures won't suffice anymore." But then Kennedy goes on to say he doesn't support a single-payer scheme because he feels it's impractical, and he does support a "public option", as well as individual mandates. (But hey, Carter's approach was piecemeal.)

Kennedy was dying and he knew it, but as far as I can tell he said nothing about the gradual gutting of the legislation over the course of the summer, nor anything about Obama's very public vacillation regarding his support for the public option.

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At August 28, 2009 3:59 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I think Dennis was just reminded of earlier times by kennedy’s death, I’m quite sure he is aware of Kennedy’s shortcomings. Today Alexander Cockburn writes about Kennedy if you want to know more about Ted Kennedy. Here is part of it.
The two prongs of Kennedy’s deregulatory attack – later decorated with the political label “neo-liberalism” – were aimed at airlines and trucking, and Kennedy’s man, Alfred Kahn was duly installed by Jimmy Carter at the Civil Aeronautics Board to introduce the cleansing winds of competition into the industry. By and large, airline deregulation went down well with the press and, for a time, with the public, who rejoiced in the bargains offered by the small fry such as People’s Express, and by the big fry striking back. The few critics who said that within a few years the nation would be left with five or six airlines, oligopoly and higher fares, were mostly ignored.

No one ever really wrote about the terrible effects of trucking deregulation outside the left press. It was certainly the most ferocious anti-labor move of the 1970s, with Kennedy as the driving force. Some of Kennedy’s aides promptly reaped the fruits of their legislative labors, leaving the Hill to make money hand over fist trying to break unions on behalf of Frank Lorenzo, the Texan entrepreneur who ran the Texas Air Corporation and its properties, Continental Airlines and its subsidiary, Eastern.

Did Kennedy fight, might and main, against NAFTA? No. As Steve Early relates in his piece on this site today, he was for it and helped Clinton ratify the job-losing Agreement. Then he put his shoulder behind GATT, parent of the World Trade Agreement.

We also have Kennedy to thank for 'No Child Left Behind' – the nightmarish education act pushed through in concert with Bush Jr's White House, that condemns children to a treadmill of endless tests contrived as "national standards".

And it was Kennedy who was the prime force behind the Hate Crimes Bill, aka the Matthew Shepard Act, by dint of which America is well on its way to making it illegal to say anything nasty about gays, Jews, blacks and women. "Hate speech," far short of any direct incitement to violence, is on the edge of being criminalized, with the First Amendment going the way of the dodo.

The deadly attacks on the working class and on organized labor are Ted Kennedy’s true monument. But as much as his brothers Jack and Bobby he was adept at persuading the underdogs that he was on their side. If it hadn’t been for Kennedy, a lot more people would have health coverage . In 1971 Nixon, heading into his relection bid, put up the legislative ancestor of all recent Democratic proposals, but Kennedy shot it down, preferring to have this as his campaign plank sometime in the political future.

After reelection, Nixon did promote a health plan in his 1974 State of the Union speech, with a call for universal access to health insurance. He followed up with his Comprehensive Health Insurance Act on February 6, 1974. Nixon said his plan would build on existing employer-sponsored insurance plans and would provide government subsidies to the self-employed and small businesses to ensure universal access to health insurance. Kennedy went through the motions of cooperation, but in the end the AFL-CIO, with a covert nudge from Kennedy, killed the bill because Nixon was vanishing under the Watergate scandal and the Democrats did not want to hand the President and the Republicans one of their signature issues. Now the Republicans scream “socialism” at exactly what Nixon proposed and Kennedy killed off 38 years ago, in 1971.

To this day there are deluded souls who argue that Jack was going to pull US troops out of Vietnam and that is why he was killed; that Bobby, who worked for Roy Cohn and supervised a "Murder Inc" in the Caribbean, was really and truly on the side of the angels; that Ted was the mighty champion of the working people, even though he helped deliver them into the inferno of neoliberalism.

At August 29, 2009 1:52 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Hi Rob,
I'm not slamming Dennis, I'm not even slamming Ted Kennedy. Dennis Perrin's assessment that maybe Kennedy was the best that a senator can be and still be part of the system he was in, given the times, etc, is no doubt accurate.

In 40 plus years it was probably inevitable he would have a mixed record of good and not-so-good achievements. Incidentally, Louis Proyect also discusses trucking regulation in the post I link to, which I found via Perrin.

My main point, which I may not have made clearly enough, is that we're going to be inundated with bad actors on both sides of the aisle invoking his memory to sell shitty legislation.

(Digby says pretty much the same thing in a recent post, but just in reference to the GOP. As I think I've mentioned before, many of her commenters kvetch about single-payer, and seem to "get it" more than she does, and sometimes she even scolds them.)

At August 29, 2009 5:18 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


No that’s alright, I wasn’t bothered by anything you wrote, just wanted to clarify. Digby is actually pretty smart on some things, but she has a severe blind spot that screws up her conclusions on certain things. As for Kennedy I don’t have any strong feelings in either direction. Personally though, I’m against nepotism in politics. I strongly believe that no more than one family member should be eligible for being president. Two Bushes was two too many, and the same goes for the Clintons. I really object to these little political dynasties.

Yeah, I believe your main point about bad legislation is true because generally speaking almost all legislation is bad legislation primarily being used by the elite to take advantage of the rabble in one form or another. In fact, this is the function of the government which is to allow one group to suppress all other groups at those other groups own expense, socially, economically, and even people’s very lives when they are sent to fight in wars like so many slaves. It’s disgusting, that’s why I always wince when someone says we are a nation of laws or whatever. Look at how it is shaping up that the medical insurance companies are going to end up making a larger profit, inevitably the health care reform has become health insurance reform. And this is because the legislative process, once again, is being used to suppress the masses while the wealthy make even more profit.


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