Are conservatives capable of producing their own Ted Kennedy? What can progressives learn from him?

Q:  Would any GOP Senator today get the kind of funeral and remembrance that Edward Kennedy has?

A:  That is increasingly unlikely. all GOP Senators who vote against the upcoming climate and clean energy bill will be consigning themselves to be dustbin of history.  Given how rapidly climate impacts are accelerating, by the 2020s the entire country — even most Republicans — will realize how tragically mistaken were those who blocked serious action and who demagogued against those trying to avert catastrophe.  Those conservatives who want to be fondly eulogized by the status quo media and centrist opinionmakers have maybe a decade left.

Dick Cheney himself may live long enough to be seen by even his last 3 or 4 remaining admirers as a leading agent of humanity’s self-destruction (see “Has anyone in U.S. history made more Americans less safe than Dick Cheney?“).  And I can’t even imagine the kind of funeral President George W. Bush will get if he lives to, say, the 2030s, when the consequences of his all-out effort to stop domestic and international action on climate change have initiated the grim time in American history I’ve labeled “Planetary Purgatory.”

But there are also important lessons for Democrats here, too.  Although an indisputable liberal lion, Kennedy repeatedly reached across the aisle to achieve what was achievable.  As the Post reported this weekend in, many Democrats say

… what made Kennedy successful was knowing when to compromise, when to agree to terms that fell short of expectations but left room for later gains. “He had this unerring sense of what was the critical bottom line for the people most in need — what the key goal was you were making progress on and why you were at the table to begin with,” said Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster and strategist has brief but must-read op-ed, “Where’s the GOP’s Ted Kennedy?“:

Ted Kennedy’s voice and leadership will be sorely missed in the effort to pass health-care reform. But when Republicans say that Democrats don’t have anyone to take his place in achieving a bipartisan compromise, they are either missing, or deliberately obscuring, the relevant lesson of Kennedy’s example.

The truth is that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, with the support of the White House, has worked hard for months to reach consensus with Sens. Chuck Grassley, Olympia Snowe and Mike Enzi on a health-reform bill — incurring, for his trouble, more than a little heat from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. But so far, the Republicans haven’t had the will, courage or independence to strike a deal. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been doing his best to end the negotiations, apparently agreeing with Jim DeMint’s political assessment that health care could be President Obama’s Waterloo. And now Chuck Grassley says he could sign only a compromise that a majority of the GOP caucus would support.

The problem is not that there is no Ted Kennedy among the Democrats who understands the art of compromise. The problem is that there is no Republican willing to provide, for health reform, the kind of bold leadership that Kennedy provided to help pass controversial legislation when George W. Bush was president.

For example, No Child Left Behind become law because Kennedy agreed to support President Bush’s signal education initiative — aggravating more than a few members of the Democratic caucus and establishment who thought the act was wrong on the merits and poor politics. But Kennedy believed it was worth the risk and lent his prestige and credibility to making it happen.

Democrats did not get their way on the creation of the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, but on that, too, Kennedy decided that something was better than nothing, even though seniors were required to buy their coverage through private companies and Medicare was prevented from negotiating with the pharmaceutical companies for the best prices.

Kennedy gave Bush a victory rather than sending the Republicans to their Waterloo because he believed the result was more important than short-term politics. If Republicans really want to honor the senator’s memory, they should stop using him as an excuse for the failure of health-care reform and instead start living up to his example.

What Garin says about the lack of boldly GOP leadership goes double for the climate change bill, a far more consequential piece of legislation.  We had one such senator last Congress, John Warner (R-VA), stalwart conservative understood the dire nature of the problem, particularly from a national security perspective.

The only conservative Senator who comes close now is John McCain.  Until very recently he had been strongly dissing the House climate bill, but recently he appears to be remembering that the science has become more dire.  I have difficulty seeing how we get beat a filibuster if McCain isn’t one of the 60 votes.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure who else he would bring with him — perhaps Lindsey Graham.  Still, those two coupled with the two Maine Senators would be pretty darn close to what is needed.

Can we find enough conservative senators to make a deal?  Will progressives be able to take a Kennedy-esque compromise?  In September, I’ll take a closer look at where the swing Senators stand and what  the deal might look like.

17 Responses to Are conservatives capable of producing their own Ted Kennedy? What can progressives learn from him?

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    Facts and Approaches

    Facts and approaches are different things, of course.

    Within a given set of facts (the relevant ones, and let’s assume that they can be ascertained to some reasonable degree), there can be a number of approaches to a given situation.

    Some approaches may very well be better than others, and some may have different aims than others. And those things are open to analysis, discussion, and comparison.

    But, setting aside the question of different approaches for now . . .

    There is still the matter of the facts themselves. For instance, the vast majority of scientists are either correct in their assessments of the climate problem (at least directionally), or not. Or, the health care proposals either include “Provision X” or they don’t.

    What I’m seeing, unfortunately, is that more and more Republican “leaders” are losing track of basic facts. They don’t even get the basic facts right. Often, they don’t seem to WANT to get them right.

    Now, there are people with this unfortunate habit on both sides of the political aisle, and different people have this problem to different degrees. Maybe it’s a contagious disease of sorts, floating back and forth among differing numbers of members of the different parties. Perhaps so?

    But, without question in my mind, a much larger number of the Republican leaders and pundits have the disturbing disease right now. And, it’s a very credibility-killing disease.

    So, completely aside from questions about the “approach” to solving any given problem, how can you trust anyone, or even take them seriously, if they don’t get the basic facts right in the first place — and if they don’t even want to know the facts?

    To me, the question of whether someone can achieve the stature and deserved admiration of a Jefferson or Washington or Lincoln or Ted Kennedy or etc. must be answered, at least somewhat, at a more “basic” and foundational level than at the level of whether that person can speak well or negotiate tough or compromise or whatever. One must first have the courage and honesty to respect fact, and must also be driven by a curiosity to adjust one’s view if more accurate facts are offered or available.

    So, any Republican leader who thinks that the country’s health care situation is just fine, or thinks that CO2 won’t harm the climate, or thinks that reducing taxes for the wealthy is the solution to EVERY problem, is in trouble if he/she wants some genuine admiration from a broad population or from history. Why? Because the basic facts don’t support those views. So, such a person can be physically attractive, can speak well, can negotiate tough, can compromise, or can stand on her/his head or play lightning-fast guitar. No matter. If they refuse to see major problems, and if they push for programs that are inconsistent with the facts, they are destined to fail from the get-go, in any genuine sense.

    The media, too, often lose track of this. They are often “into” the mud-bath of things, into the question of who spoke best, into the question of who looked the best, and so forth, all the while losing track that real facts are involved, and real things at stake, and that one candidate might well be more in touch with those real facts than the other. If only the media could place more focus on that.

    Our political leaders are often in “outer space” when it comes to facts because our media don’t challenge them and “hold them to” facts.

    That’s it for now.



  2. ecostew says:

    Given that as AGW intensifies we will be seeing AGW-related events/excursions (as opposed to average intensification) associated with: increases in drought/heat waves/wildfires; increases in storm severity/flooding; increases in food/water shortage; and deteriorating energy security, I would expect AGW to become obvious to the general public between 2015 & 2020 and it may even be sooner.

  3. Erik Schimek says:

    Unfortunately, I think you’re overestimating the Republican party. They have very short memories for leaders who are later proven to be wrong.

    Of course, that’s assuming that they even accept the proof as valid. After all, God’s Plan would never allow the Earth to be harmed by man. Not in a permanent way. And even if man did somehow collude with Satan to harm the Earth, well … then it’s all part of God’s plan to bring on the rapture. Glory Day!

    You can’t reason with a logical vortex like this.

  4. ecostew says:

    An issue, which is associated with corn grain ethanol:

  5. Leif says:

    Joe. This is off topic but I have been talking about Ocean Acidification for awhile and here is a link for you. Reletively short, good source. Dire warnings. Ten year window? Perhaps you would like to do a piece on same sometime. Sincerely, Leif

    [JR: Thanks. I’ve done a few pieces. Will do more.]

  6. ecostew says:

    Leif – thanks for the site.

  7. Gail says:

    My dad, a recent convert to Romm’n’Legions, has this take:

    During the ceremonies for Teddy, we watched and thought about how he had influenced our own lives. For instance, we knew a woman, Margaret citroni from Rowley, who heldped us with the goats and whose daughter had mostly abandoned her grandaughter who was also deaf. She wrote to Kennedy asking for his assistance. He answered her plea and helped the child to get into a school for the deaf. He was also instrumental in interceding with Soviet leaders to help Sakarov’s wife, Elena Bonner, and their children and grandchildren to live in Brookline. In fact, many of the Russians who teach at BU owe their liberty to him. Our more direct connection with a Kennedy policy came from the Meals On Wheels program, for which he was the primary architect. it was a program that was a perfect example of how a federal program could stimulate volunteering in communities around the nation,. nana ran the program in Ipswich for a few years and, when one of her drivers couldn’t make a run, she or I took the food to the shut-ins. The program in Wellfleet was run, and still is, from the senior center. We were always struck of how many seniors there were in Wellfleet who lived by themselves and were delighted to see us. So, the program wasn’t simply one of delivering a meal, but there was much visiting and chatting that went on. The MOW volunteers were the only contact many of these people had with anyone. Some of the people lived in houses down really remote sandy roads. We had few maps and, because of their isolation, the residents were unknown even to town authorities. For a modest expenditure of federal funds, this is a program that serves many who would otherwise be neglected. Well, although we all know of the Senator’s failings, still he was a faithful servant to the causes in which he had a passioniate interest. What more could one want from a politician?


  8. Republicans believe they will pay with their political lives for defying their base. But their base has lost contact with reality. The base believes what it believes and refuses to listen to those who disagree with it. Unfortunately Jeff the base really does believe our health care situation is fine, CO2 wont’ harm climate, and reducing taxes on the rich is the solution to every problem. It also looks on Republicans who disagree with these propositions as traitors. This limits Republicans ability to face facts. And the media won’t challenge them on the facts because the facts favor liberals. So when the media does challenge Republicans on the facts the answer from the base is a charge of “liberal bias.” The media would rather not face facts than be charged with liberal bias. It is difficult to have a two party system with one party this dysfunctional and a media refusing to point the dysfunction out.

  9. lgcarey says:

    What Robert just said.

  10. lizardo says:

    About that darn filibuster problem: Thomas Geoghegan has a very thought provoking (I thought) article in The Nation magazine about why we should get the Dems to get rid of it. I agree, and for the reasons he states.

    It’s no longer on the homepage so here’s the link:

  11. paulm says:

    ecostew, definately sooner.

    Things are really starting to hum now: wild fires, storms, drought and methane releases. All this and we are at the low end of an El Nino.
    Lovelock seems to me to be on track so far.

    0.8C has gone by, 0.8C+ to come. Hang on.

  12. BBHY says:

    I thought we were already at the point where climate change was completely obvious and undeniable. When Republican “leaders” go around the country telling the public that health care reform is a plot to kill old people and the disabled, and that Obama is not a US citizen, it’s completely obvious and undeniable that compromise with Republicans is impossible, Democrats continue as if it is necessary.

    I have completely given up on both Democrats and Republicans.

  13. Bob Wright says:

    Veteran PA senator Arlen Specter was a centrist Republican, and the neocons tried to purge him a few years back. Even ‘W’ was shocked about how fiercly they went after him and intervened. He finally switched parties. No room for a centrist or compromiser or science and common sense with the Repubs these days.

  14. Pete from Silver Spring says:

    Without question we must all work harder to get out the message on climate change and strongly encourage the Senate to do the right thing. (Being from Maryland, my Senators are definite “yes” votes on climate legislation, but my message to them is that their vote is a given and they need to help bring around the “undecideds” in the Senate.”)

    I have one point of partial disagreement with the post. It the Republicans succeed in their mission of making Obama fail on climate change (and all other issues at all costs), we will be right with them in “dustbin of history.” Climate deniers in the Senate should be denied the comfort of the dustbin, but rather their names should be permanently etched in infamy. Should climate legislation fail, some thought should be given to how to best “memorialize” those individuals responsible. As the impacts of climate change become more impossible to ignore, revisiting those who played such a influential role in permitting our world to be grievously damaged — and holding them accountable (even posthumously, as best we can)– may provide some small measure of justice and comfort.

  15. J4zonian says:

    Are you kidding? You’re praising a man (by proxy) for supporting the biggest leap forward in privatization of education in history? for helping to pass the biggest sell-out of seniors and sick people in, well, 4 or 5 years, anyway…

    No Child’s Behind Left, as Greg Palast calls it, devastated what little encouragement of intelligent questioning and reasoning ability the public schools had, turned many schools over to private corporations who educate in their own interest not to mention their own (rapacious, authoritarian) image, and turned too many of this country’s children over to exactly the kind of science-denying religious crazies who cause so much trouble on climate issues.

    No fault of Ted Kennedy’s, maybe, but the image of him as one of the most liberal politicians in the US reveals the pathetically right wing (isolated, authoritarian and closed) condition of our mind-body politic. Did he ever seriously question or offer any policy alternative to the type of warlord business model that is the modern corporate state? We’re constantly told now that he spent his life fighting poverty, homelessness, etc. and for health care…. and good for him. Somebody had to, I guess, but did he spend his life with his finger in the crumbling New Orleans levee or pointing out the direct connection between, on the one hand, people’s lack of rights and well-being, and on the other hand our refusal to consider any other way of organizing our society except around an economy of numbers, growth and nature destruction, a business model of psychological splitting and projection?

    I have witnessed and participated in 15 or so years of determined progress on many fronts and 35 years of retreat, bewilderment, surrender and appeasement on every front, leaving us far behind where I started my life in human rights, constitutional protections, democratic structures and ideas and ideals, natural resource base, nature appreciation and knowledge, and physical, emotional and intellectual ability to preserve nature and democracy. We have given up the determination to achieve what we want and need and know is right at least partly because we have bought into the image of the father figure so completely that we only ask for what we think the patriarchal structure will want to bestow on us, in its infinite grace and patience with our undeserving selves. On the House bill, on health care, and now in the Senate, as in the obvious lies justifying war and torture and a thousand economic cuts, we surrender more and more territory—physical, rhetorical, natural, bodily and in all other realms, to people with the flimsiest of arguments, only the money and strength to yell louder and attract more obsequious press attention and make people afraid. Did Kennedy do everything he could have about that?

    When you ask if we would be able to take a Kennedyesque compromise, I think of NCBL, the drug-money besotted AARP’s version of acceptable medicine, and decades of enforced restraint and obscurity, and his benching after mortifying scandals over the lack of restraint. Kennedy, in so many ways, is the perfect mirror of our times, and that’s not the type of compromise we need to survive.