The Kennedy Legacy: An undisciplined liberalism that doesn’t know its limitations

Falling prey to the same type of brain cancer that recently took journalist Bob Novak, Senator Ted Kennedy died yesterday.

In his young years, he was overshadowed by his prominent older brothers. He was the weaker brother, lacking Robert’s passion and intensity and Jack’s intelligence and wit. He got kicked out of college for cheating and then used someone to cheat for him to pass the law exam. On the basis of his Presidential brother and his Kennedy political family strength, yet having no real prior experience or accomplishments save for his name, he became in 1962 a young Massachusetts Senator.

Who would have thought that this man would end up as important a member of the Kennedy clan as any other? Yet he did. Ted Kennedy’s near life-long and almost half-a-century career was as a US Senator from Massachusetts, and in that position he has impacted nearly every issue of this whole era.

Ted Kennedy’s lack of discipline in his personal life led to the tragedy of the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Drunk and with Mary Jo in July 1969, Ted drove off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, submerging his car; he escaped from the sunken car, but instead of seeking help to save her life he ran and swam away. His actions killed Mary Jo, and it took remarkable control of the media and the local judicial process by his powerful family to coverup his true crime and save his political career. In the end, it would doom his chances for the Presidency when, in 1980, he was simply unable to account for and explain his actions. Scandal didn’t leave him. He was accused of using drugs in the 1980s and in 1991 was caught up in the date-rape charge made against his nephew.

Kennedy’s legacy politically will be his actions for 45 years on the Senate floor. Admired so much by liberals, he became for them the ‘lion’ of the Senate. To Ted Kennedy, Federal Government was the hammer and every social issue was the nail. His political legacy, like his personal one, is one of undisciplined liberalism. Unmoored by constraints of fiscal discipline or policy constraints of asking whether Government programs are effective, efficient and worthwhile.

Kennedy pushed through a 1965 immigration bill, predicting wrongly that it would not
Greatly change or expand immigration:

“First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration remains substantially the same … Secondly, the ethnic mix (of the country) will not be upset…” — Kennedy, speaking in the Senate in favor of his 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act.

Kennedy was wrong. The immigration bill’s impact was huge, and it helped spawn the ongoing endemic problems of illegal immigration while radically shifting the types of immigrants that come to America.

Kennedy wrongly predicted when the oil and gas prices were being decontrolled in 1981 that priced would skyrocket. The opposite happened. In the 1980s, the price of oil fell as previously high prices put demand down and the new OPEC supplies overwhelmed demand.

Kennedy incited the era of “Borking” and ugly Supreme Court nomination politics with his inflammatory and slanderous charges against Robert Bork on the Senate floor. The truth would not suffice to defeat Bork, So Kennedy scare-mongered against Bork:

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is — and is often the only — protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy….

This was not an outburst but a calculated political slander. Kennedy’s lies worked. What was before that time a mostly rubber-stamp confirmation of Presidential picks, which in turn were in many cases guesswork, became a high-stakes arena for the right and left to duke out to control the interpretation of the Constitution.

At various times, Senator Kennedy has made other inflammatory remarks, for pointed political effect. Just as remarkable has been the restrained and often kind way the targets of his attacks have responded. After Kennedy attacked President G W Bush on the Senate floor, in effect accusing him of starting the Iraq war for oil profits, he was lauded by the GHWBush library for his ‘public service’ as a Senator.

Ted Kennedy over the years added gravitas and accomplishments, mainly by pushing through Government expansion bills. Under President Bush, he wrote (his staff wrote) the No Child Left Behind act. President Bush in effect allowed his domestic agenda to get written by Kennedy. Republicans such as Senator Hatch and Senator McCain worked with Kennedy on ‘bipartisan’ bills.

Ted Kennedy’s true legacy is that of liberalism to excess. He would think nothing of proposing more spending in an era of trillion dollar deficits; he ushered in the era of making political blood sport out of judicial nominations. He would think nothing of tearing down a president for political gain. For good or bad, Ted Kennedy has shaped much of politics today. His legacy? Look to our leviathan Federal Government itself. It’s the house that Ted built.

(Crossposted from Travis Mon http://travismonitor.blogspot.com/2009/08/ted-kennedy-legacy.html )