A Test of Kennedy Currency
If you read the newspapers or watch the news, you will encounter a long list of accomplishments by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. One thing you're less likely to hear, however, is that in his death, Kennedy proved Rush Limbaugh right.
In March, the talk-show host and bete noir of progressives everywhere said that the health care bill wending its way through Congress would eventually be dubbed the "Ted Kennedy Memorial Health Care Bill." At the time, the official position of the Democratic Party was outrage and disgust.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee initiated a petition drive demanding that the Republican Party formally denounce Limbaugh for his "reprehensible" and "truly outrageous" comments.
Fast-forward to a few hours after the announcement of Kennedy's death. Suddenly, naming the bill after Kennedy would be a moving tribute.
ABC News reports that "the idea of naming the legislation for Kennedy has been quietly circulating for months" but was kicked into overdrive by Sen. Robert Byrd, the Democratic Party's eldest statesman. Intriguingly, this suggests that either Democrats already had the idea when Limbaugh floated it, which would mean their protests were just so much opportunistic and cynical posturing, or they actually got the idea from Limbaugh himself, which would be too ironic for a Tom Wolfe novel.
But that Kennedy's death should be marked by cynicism, opportunism and irony is not shocking, given that these qualities are now the hallmarks of the party he largely defined.
The determination of the Democratic Party to exploit Kennedy's death for political gain puts the political commentator who doesn't wish to speak ill of the dead in something of a bind. So let us be clear that there is no evidence whatsoever that Kennedy himself -- or any Kennedy -- would object to such a ploy.
Whether one calls it exploitation or heroic perseverance, the Kennedy dynasty's longevity is best understood as a response to fatal tragedies. When Jacqueline Kennedy learned of her husband's murder, she lamented Lee Harvey Oswald's inconvenient political views. "It had to be some silly little Communist."
Fortunately, her husband's handlers had things well in hand, orchestrating with a compliant media the grand fiction that Kennedy had somehow been a martyr to civil rights, taken out by right-wing "hate." The real JFK, who cut capital gains taxes and only reluctantly supported Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington, had never been nearly as liberal as the posthumous legend created to give new life to liberalism -- and the Kennedy name.
According to the mythmakers, JFK would have pulled us out of Vietnam (and the Oliver Stones say that's why he was killed). Meanwhile, the real JFK boasted -- mere hours before his murder -- that he'd massively boosted defense spending and ordered a 600 percent increase on counterinsurgency special forces in Vietnam. The prior March he'd asked Congress to spend 50 cents out of ever dollar on defense.
Hence one of the great ironies of Ted Kennedy's career. He was the chief beneficiary of an inheritance from a brother whose views he didn't share.
Such contradictions never bothered Ted Kennedy, nor his fellow Democrats, when he was alive, so why should there be compunction now? After all, the Kennedys and the Democrats have mythologized and exploited the deaths of three brothers (and minimized the deaths of Mary Jo Kopechne and Martha Moxley) in order to protect the Kennedy brand. Naming a massive expansion of the federal government after Ted Kennedy, particularly when it was indeed his life's cause, seems entirely fitting and fair.
My only objection is the notion that somehow anyone but partisan Democrats should be expected to cave in to the "Do it for Teddy" bullying. To listen to some liberals, one gets the sense that conservatives should surrender to something that violates their fundamental principles out of deference to the very man liberals celebrate for never abandoning his fundamental principles. No one expected Ted Kennedy to become a champion of free markets out of deference to Ronald Reagan's memory.
Now, if liberals want to rally their own troops by putting Kennedy's name on the bill, that is their right, even if it will likely result in an even more unpopular bill than the ones now under consideration. I suspect, however, that they will be disappointed to discover that the currency of the Kennedy name purchases far less than it once did, thanks in large part to what Ted Kennedy did with it.
(You can write to Jonah Goldberg in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at JonahsColumn@aol.com.)
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