I continue to see an assortment of pundits -- most notably the Politico's Roger Simon on Hardball Wednesday night -- insist that Sen. Ted Kennedy's brand of bipartisanship would have eased the way for a bipartisan healthcare reform bill. Simon even seemed to suggest that Kennedy's absence from the Senate this year is a major factor in the lack of Republican support for President Obama's agenda.
I miss Kennedy dearly right now, because he'd be calling these lazy pontificators on their lies. It is, in fact, remarkable to think about the difference between the GOP this year and last. They're against deficit spending and they think it's important not to be a rubber stamp for the president -- a 180 degree change from the last eight years. But the reason for that change isn't the absence of Kennedy -- merely stating the possibility makes the stupidity of that point of view obvious. It's the election of a popular Democratic president who happens to be black.
I'm still not sure what part Obama's being black plays in Congressional obstructionism, but I can tell you it's crucial to the hysteria and frenzy being whipped up with lies about Obama's plans. And when GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins says the Republicans need "a great white hope" to stand up to Obama, well, the racial politics of that don't get much clearer. The point is, the Republican party changed, and it wasn't because of the absence of Kennedy. They decided their only hope -- I guess until they found a great white hope -- was to block the president at every turn. Even his compromise stimulus package got zero GOP votes in the House and only three in the Senate, and one of the three, Arlen Specter, is now a Democrat.
Let's say it again, clearly: Ted Kennedy favored a dramatic transformation of our healthcare system, and he believed the lever for that change was the public option for health insurance. "Incremental measures won't suffice," Kennedy said earlier this year. I love the way Media Matters ran down the facts here; I regret, when I wrote my last post, not having seen Lawrence O'Donnell shooting down Orrin Hatch and John McCain's false claims about Kennedy being able to broker a bipartisan health reform bill, on Countdown Monday night:
They both voted against -- they've already voted on this -- they voted against the Kennedy bill in the Kennedy committee, in the health, education, labor, and pensions committee. They've had a bill, they voted against it.
That bill was conceived of by Chairman Kennedy. He wasn't there at the time of the votes. Chris Dodd was there getting it through the committee for Chairman Kennedy. The chairman made his wishes known very clearly.
John McCain, a member of the committee, Orrin Hatch a member of the committee could have tried to work with Senator Kennedy at the beginning and they rejected that possibility.
We can't say it enough. They voted against the Kennedy bill in the Kennedy committee. We know what Kennedy wanted, and so did they. The Democrats must honor his memory by passing it. Incremental measures won't suffice.