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August 24, 2009

Undermining a Legacy

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

United States Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy (D., MA) is dying of brain cancer. This is an indisputable fact, acknowledged by even the normally tight-lipped Kennedy public relations machine. This should be a sad moment in American history regardless of your opinion of his political ideology and sordid personal history. Senator Kennedy has been one of the leading progressive voices in American political history.


Our system demands the creative tension born of deep philosophical disagreement. Debate and dissension serve as the fuel for our policy-making engine. Honesty and fairness have to be a part of the equation, and that thought forms the basis of this column.


Senator Kennedy has spent his 47 years in the Senate arguing for fair treatment, equality, and similar concepts. For that, he deserves some measure of credit. Today, dying of cancer, at what might be his most influential opportunity to strengthen his legacy as the Senate’s last remaining “lion,” he risks losing what credibility he has left.


Senator Kennedy has written Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick a letter calling for a revision to the state code that would allow Governor Patrick to appoint an interim senator in the event an incumbent were to vacate their office. Current law is written such that a vacancy would result in a special election that must be held within five months of the vacated seat.


First blush: A seemingly reasonable request, made even more reasonable by Kennedy’s decades of service to the people and his passion for providing Massachusetts residents with the two votes that our Constitution promises them.


Problem: Senator Kennedy helped lead an effort to amend Massachusetts state law to remove the power of its governor to appoint a senator during the administration of former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.


If the pure dichotomy weren’t hypocritical enough, understanding the reasons why makes this feel even more slimy and despicable. Senator Kennedy and his underhanded progressive cronies pursued the change in law he now wants to overturn because Governor Romney would have been able to appoint a successor to fill a vacant Senate seat. It had nothing to do with continuity; it had everything to do with the same type of partisan garbage that has tied our nation’s federal legislature in knots.


So why would Senator Kennedy risk tarnishing his image as a fighter for fairness in his final days? It’s simple. President Barack Obama will not have the votes to force his healthcare reform proposal through the Congress if he doesn’t have that crucial 60th vote, the seat that Senator Kennedy would be filling were his health to allow him.


Time is of the essence, at least in the eyes of the progressive coalition hell-bent on achieving the Obama policy initiative that most Americans don’t trust and that most members of Congress have not read and do not understand.


If the Republicans, bowing to the immense pressure of middle America to resist rushing through a massive expansion of the federal government in the area of healthcare, refuse to support President Obama’s initiative, then the Democratic party and congressional leadership will require 60 Senate votes to pass a bill.


How do you honor a politician who would sacrifice the best interests of his constituents to avoid a partisan appointment from the other political party? Isn’t the pure hypocrisy overwhelming when he claims from his deathbed to be motivated by the exact same concern years later?


No doubt the national news media will fall over themselves with fawning tributes to Senator Kennedy when he eventually succumbs to the disease. MSNBC, anticipating the eventual outcome, has already produced a retrospective of the influence of the Kennedy brothers, scheduled to run next week. Hardball host Chris Mathews will lend his voice to a video retrospective of this American political dynasty.


This isn’t meant to suggest that the tributes and honors are unjustified or inappropriate. On his television program on August 19, in an effort to sell viewers on the upcoming special, Mr. Mathews talked about the significance of the Kennedy legacy, specifically singling out Ted Kennedy.


As far as Mr. Mathews is concerned, Senator Kennedy is one of the most important figures to have ever served in that body; and his accomplishments warrant our collective celebration. To make the tribute honest and real, it should also include an appropriate review of the darker moments in the Kennedy legacy.


On the same Hardball program, Mr. Mathews asked an opinion writer why the Democrats shouldn’t just come right out and admit that the basis for this change in Massachusetts law is political, and that they’re just going to do it because they can. Mr. Mathews implied that because Senator Kennedy has fought so long for socialized medicine that we “owe” him the chance to have his position represented and a vote, even if it isn’t his own, cast to put the Obama health reform bill over the top.


No one, not even the last Lion of the Senate, is deserving of a politically manipulated process in order to cement their legacy. Most Americans will render the appropriate level of respect and appreciation for a lifetime of public service, regardless of whether they agree politically.


The mantra “do it right, or not at all” fits this situation. The passing of Edward Moore Kennedy will be a sad day in our nation’s political history. It would be better if that remembrance is untarnished by blatant political hypocrisy in the last days.


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