Ted Kennedy and the Death of Liberalism
By Thought Merchant
There was a time in America when politicians stood for progressive causes with courage and passion. From Franklin Roosevelt to J.F.K., a liberal policy agenda was a strong part of both the Democratic Party and the American political discourse overall. In modern history few politicians embodied these liberal notions better than Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. His unyielding fight on issues ranging from civil rights to health care reform marks a dedication to progressive ideals that merits great respect for his conviction at the least, but more appropriately his recognition as one of America’s greatest and most productive political figures. As stated in this article:
“Over 300 bills written by Kennedy were passed into law, many of which greatly impacted the lives of all Americans. His legacy includes an increase in the minimum wage in 1981, easier access to health care for the poor, funding for Meals on Wheels for indigent seniors, reducing the voting age from 21 to 18, and Title IX, which obliged schools to fund women’s athletics at the same level as men’s.
Kennedy also played a major role in passing the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which redressed accessibility problems for disabled people; the 1990 Ryan White AIDS Care Act; and the 1997 State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), which provided coverage for uninsured children.
The senator was a dedicated champion of civil rights, arguing forcefully for immigration reform, same-sex marriage and hate crimes legislation, while inveighing against warrantless wiretapping and discriminatory voter ID laws.”
Such a strong legislative record did nothing to halt the ideological onslaught that was brought about by the Reagan Revolution which occurred after the 1980 election. Ronald Reagan ran on a platform which argued that “government cannot solve our problems because government is the problem.” His hardcore aversion to liberal policy was seemingly harsh and severe in the face of what was considered one of the weakest Presidencies to that point, that of Jimmy Carter, the man who Ted Kennedy begrudgingly allowed to run at the top of the Democratic Party ticket in 1980.
Reagan’s popularity was caused by his ability to restore American pride and confidence after four years of a Carter administration that seemed to allow itself to be bullied by the most obscure foreign enemies. Furthermore, Reagan’s regressive tax policies, and trends toward deregulation, helped bolster economic growth–though built on a house of cards–after the nation was suffering double digit inflation under his Democratic predecessor.
If winning 44 of the 50 states in his election against Jimmy Carter wasn’t a bad enough attack on liberal political ideology, Reagan’s securing re-election by gaining a 49 state victory over Walter Mondale in 1988 put progressive government policy on a death bead upon which it rests to this day.
After such popularity the political tone of the country became so conservative that the first Democratic President since Reagan echoed his aversion to big government, championed the use of the death penalty, signed regressive welfare legislation, and put forth some of most extreme economic de-regulation the nation had seen since the Great Depression. That President was of course, Bill Clinton.
Today we have a man in the White House who some consider to be the true inheritor of the Kennedy legacy, President Barack Obama. Without doubt the oratory skill, youthful appeal and charm manifested by the Kennedy brothers is quite evident in Obama. But as a presidential candidate who received more money from Wall Street insiders and Private Equity firms than any in American history, how serious can we expect Mr. Obama to be about bringing forth a liberal policy agenda? Obama himself lauded Reagan as being a transformational President more so than any of his recent predecessors. Moreover, with men like Larry Summers, who helped spearhead the devastating financial deregulation that occurred under Bill Clinton, combined with Timothy Geithner, who chaired the Federal Reserve of New York while financial institutions were laced with sub-prime mortgage related instruments leading his financial team, how can we possibly expect President Obama to implement the regulatory mechanisms needed to put Wall Street in order?
The tragic irony of Ted Kennedy’s death is that the one policy issue that was his career passion is now being bungled by a Democratic Congress that is so laced with Health Insurance Company money that the Democratic Chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee, the man most responsible for the future of Health Care in that chamber, receives more Health Care lobbyist money than many of his Republican opponents.
Therefore when gauging what truly caused the death of liberalism in this country true progressives should not lay blame on the Republican party wholly. For when Democrats have complete control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency the question isn’t if liberalism is dead because the Democrats sold out, its how much have the lobbyists and the Democrats decided to buy in, together.