Much has been said and written about Ted Kennedy and his 46 year career in the US Senate. Many moving, emotionally stirring speeches have been made to honor this great man. But perhaps the most meaningful tribute would be to pass the health care bill created by his HELP committee—one that isn’t watered down in service of some imaginary bipartisan compromise. One that includes a strong public option to compete with private insurers and keep them from fleecing the American people.
Joe Conason of Salon.com writes:
It is true that Kennedy, the friendly warrior, excelled in bipartisanship. Nearly all of the domestic reforms mentioned here were sponsored by at least one Republican senator. But in every case, those stodgy conservatives were cajoled and whispered (and perhaps shamed) into venturing much closer to Kennedy’s perspective. He drew them toward him, invariably against their own habits, not by selling out his progressive goal, but by appealing to the decency he perceived in them.
Forty years ago he began the quest for universal healthcare that became the cause of his life when he introduced his first bill outlining that goal. His final bequest to the Senate is the Affordable Health Choices Act, his version of the Obama administration’s reform proposals, which was passed by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last month. Republicans now say that if Kennedy had not been forced by illness to relinquish the chairmanship of that committee, he would have negotiated away the strongest provisions of that bill to win passage.
Kennedy’s Republican friends should not make that disingenuous argument in his lamented absence. Lest there be any doubt about what he truly wanted, his bill includes a robust public option along with all the insurance reforms and cost controls that the president has endorsed since this process began.
How would he have handled the intransigence and dishonesty of the Republican opposition? We know that he could shout as well as whisper — and that he could be partisan as well as bipartisan. He believed that the time for incremental changes had passed. He was ready to fight. The tragedy of his death is not only that he didn’t see the triumph he had dreamed, but that he fell before he could lead the nation to that final victory. Now that victory will have to be won in his name.