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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ted Kennedy's Legacy: The Consummate Legislator

I have no doubt that many of my conservative readers will protest what I am about to write. To many on the right, any praise for Kennedy is blasphemy. This is also not an analysis on his personal life or on the accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne. I wasn't there to witness either and so I am in no position to judge. I'm also in no position to judge other's personal failings.

That said, Kennedy spent nearly five decades as a legislator, and there's no doubt that he was extremely effective in his job. More than 300 bills that eventually became laws had Ted Kennedy's name on them. Think about that for a minute. John F. Kerry has less than ten in a similar time in the Senate.

Ted Kennedy was an unabashed liberal. Yet, in a career that spanned 47 years, ten presidents, all sorts of dynamics of power structures, all Kennedy did was introduce legislation and more than anyone that legislation turned into law. This legislation spanned the spectrum of issues. He was instrumental in the Voting Rights Act, SCHIP, No Child Left Behind, Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Prescription Drug Benefit.

It's no secret that Kennedy wanted a single payer health care system. Yet, he was able to work with the likes of President Bush to turn into law legislation that went much less than that. Compare that to Hillary Clinton who refused to budge when Hillary Care blew up. Kennedy is the liberal lion and yet he worked with Republicans like John McCain, George Bush, and Orrin Hatch, to name just three, in passing legislation. Call them what you will, but none are liberals.

In August of 2001, he reached out to President Bush and they crafted into law No Child Left Behind. In 2003, he again worked with President Bush to craft into law the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit. In the middle of it, he criticized Bush relentlessly for the war in Iraq. There's no minimizing the legislative skills of a Senator when they can essentially call the president a liar in public and turn around and in private work with them on crafting a bill. Yet, that's exactly what Kennedy did.

I am not here to judge the worthiness of the legislation he turned into law. For one, there's so much of it that such an endeavor would be impossible. I'm simply here to say that we should all realize that the sheer magnitude, scope, and breadth of his legislation prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ted Kennedy was a unique and effective legislator. Since that's the number one job of any Senator, I believe that's a very important part of his legacy.

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