Liberalism lost its most reliable champion with the passing of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy this week. The senator virtually defined American liberalism for his 47 years in public office and it is not easy to see who will step into his role. But before his body has even been laid to rest, some of his colleagues are hoping to use the senator's death to push through ObamaCare. Several senators have urged that legislation be named in Kennedy's honor in hopes that his Senate colleagues, including Republicans, be persuaded to pass a bill quickly.
Universal health care was always Kennedy's passion -- unfinished business from the expansion of the welfare state that began with President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and carried through to Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. For years he championed government-guaranteed health care for all Americans, sponsoring his first major bill to enact a government health care system in 1971. But only twice during his long tenure was universal health care within reach. Both times he was denied the opportunity to play the leading role in achieving that end; first by the Clinton administration, which tried to push through its own legislation under the stewardship of then-first lady Hillary Clinton, and finally by the cancer that ultimately took his life.
For all his reputation as liberal icon or conservative bete noir, Kennedy was never the uncompromising ideologue that friends or enemies fashioned him. He was, instead, the consummate legislator -- willing to compromise in order to achieve what was possible, even if it meant a half loaf when he would have preferred a whole. For that reason alone, the absence of his hand in fashioning health care reform now has left the Democrats in a more perilous position, which is why they will try to exploit his name to push through a bill.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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