Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If Teddy Were Still Here

As the health care reform process has gone on its unmerry way lo these many months I’ve wondered whether anything would have been different had Ted Kennedy been in the lead.

My conclusion? Yes.

I haven’t tried to follow the day-to-day arguments, changes, alliances, defections, and all the rest. At some point – maybe – there will be a final bill. When that happens I’ll focus on the details and try to figure out what has happened. Until then, the process is too confusing and infuriating to bother with.

Ted Kennedy’s presence wouldn’t have changed some of the dynamics. Obama would probably still have hung back and let Congress take the lead. Lobbyists would still have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to protect the interests of their clients, the public be damned. Elected officials with pet issues would still have threatened to withhold their votes if their special itch wasn’t scratched, the public be damned. Republicans would still have put obstructing Obama and the Democrats ahead of the national interest, the public be damned.

What would have been present in the person of Ted Kennedy was a burning passion, an honest and honorable passion forged over decades of hard work to make sure that in the matter of health care the people’s interest should be put first, not damned. Along with his passion he would have brought respectful relationships with his colleagues, including those who disagreed with him, which would have made a difference. Finally, in Kennedy we would have had a creative dealmaker who could work through thorny disagreements constructively in a way that didn’t require people to sacrifice their principles.

I don’t want to overstate my position. I recognize that Ted Kennedy was not a magician for whom anything was possible. There’s a chance that even with him we would have needed to slog our way through the muck that has dominated the debate. But what has been missing is real and effective leadership. Would he have given us that? Yes.


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