Last month, Sen. Ted Kennedy wrote in Newsweek: “quality care shouldn’t depend on your financial resources, or the type of job you have, or the medical condition you face. Every American should be able to get the same treatment that U.S. senators are entitled to. This is the cause of my life … I am resolved to see to it this year that we create a system to ensure that someday, when there is a cure for the disease I now have, no American who needs it will be denied it.”
For all the legislative accomplishments of Sen. Kennedy’s life, health care for all is the one that he won’t be able to see through to its completion. It’s up to us to finish the job, as he wrote in Newsweek, “this year.”
The fact that progressives have a natural motivation to carry out the final wishes of a long-time friend and ally should not be cause for controversy. Yet conservatives are already attacking those who simply seek to follow in Kennedy’s footsteps.
One blogger for the conservative religious journal First Things writes, “Someone emailed me a moment ago wondering how long it would take for Kennedy’s death to be politicized – specifically by the left, specifically in order to push through the rapidly souring Obamacare, and ‘wouldn’t that be a dreadful and classless thing?’ The answers, at least on Twitter, are ‘immediately,’ and ‘yes, dreadful and classless, but nothing less than Kennedy himself would have expected and participated in.’” Conservative law professor William Jacobson blogged, “I will take to task the people who are seeking to use Kennedy’s death to their political advantage.” Hot Air blogger Allahpundit wrote on Twitter: “Is the response to ‘Do it for Ted’ on health care, ‘Block it for Reagan’? Since we’re now investing dead pols with moral authority and all.”
These conservatives have an interesting concept of “politicization.” The implication is that it is somehow inappropriate, illegitimate, cheap emotionally to take inspiration from a fallen leader or to pick up the baton he had no choice but to drop. But it is not “politicization” to demand we not mention the fact that the recently deceased cared deeply about a pressing issue.
I give these conservatives this much: The fact that a politician is deceased does not make him or her any more correct than when living. And as a general rule, it is not right or wise to legislate on the basis of raw emotion (see Act, Patriot).
But when we say “Do It For Ted,” that is not what we are asking.
We are, for one, simply rallying our own progressive troops.
For whatever concerns progressives have about the particulars of the compromise health care bills (and yes, they are all compromises, far short of the “Medicare for All” vision Kennedy himself had championed), we should heed what the Liberal Lion said about compromise, as well as what he said was “vital” to reform. From his Newsweek piece:
I long ago learned that you have to be a realist as you pursue your ideals. But whatever the compromises, there are several elements that are essential to any health-reform plan worthy of the name.
First, we have to cover the uninsured … All Americans should be required to have insurance. For those who can’t afford the premiums, we can provide subsidies. We’ll make it illegal to deny coverage due to preexisting conditions. We’ll also prohibit the practice of charging women higher premiums than men, and the elderly far higher premiums than anyone else. The bill drafted by the Senate health committee will let children be covered by their parents’ policy until the age of 26, since first jobs after high school or college often don’t offer health benefits.
To accomplish all of this, we have to cut the costs of health care. For families who’ve seen health-insurance premiums more than double—from an average of less than $6,000 a year to nearly $13,000 since 1999—one of the most controversial features of reform is one of the most vital. It’s been called the “public plan.” Despite what its detractors allege, it’s not “socialism.” It could take a number of different forms. Our bill favors a “community health-insurance option.” In short, this means that the federal government would negotiate rates—in keeping with local economic conditions—for a plan that would be offered alongside private insurance options. This will foster competition in pricing and services. It will be a safety net, giving Americans a place to go when they can’t find or afford private insurance, and it’s critical to holding costs down for everyone.
Secondly, we are calling on those in the Senate who say they are Kennedy’s friend to not let cheap politics stand in the way of their friend’s greatest dream.
It is not appropriate to make a litmus test of friendship the casting of a vote that conflicts with one’s principles. No one is asking a die-hard conservative who rejects the principle of universal health care coverage to suddenly back it for emotional reasons.
But it is appropriate to expect Senators who do embrace that basic principle, and who claim to love and respect Sen. Kennedy, not to let fear-mongering and smear-mongering compel them to junk what Kennedy fought so hard for in name of selfish, small, short-sighted political interest.
I would also go one step farther. It is also appropriate to expect those conservatives who repeatedly tout their friendship with Sen. Kennedy — such as Sens. John McCain and Orrin Hatch — to at least speak out against the lies and distortions coming from their fellow conservatives about their friend’s cherished legislation. And not echo them.
Both repeatedly wished Kennedy could be here to ferry the legislation through Congress. Yet both have falsely attacked his legislation as leading to a “government takeover” of health care, when Kennedy’s bill merely gives people the choice between public and private plans.
If anything, Kennedy’s compromise legislation creates a playing field too favorable to private insurers, in order to mollify those concerned that the public plan will have an unfair advantage. But so far, such actual policy details have not stopped Kennedy’s “friends” from besmirching his work.
So yes, we should “Do It For Ted.”
Progressives should work twice hard to protect and extend Kennedy’s legislative legacy.
Moderate senators should act on principle and not let selfish interest “politicize” their vote, in deference to their fallen colleague.
And conservative senators willing to embrace the man should not abet “politicizing” lies about the man’s most precious work.
We should not let our political process be dictated by the emotion of moment. And we are not.
By looking back at Kennedy’s legacy, we are recognizing that if we heeded Sen. Kennedy’s call four decades ago, we would not have the health care and fiscal crisis we urgently need to resolve today.
And we are calling on all who revere the dignity Kennedy brought to the legislative process, to treat the cause of his life with that same dignity.