Up Front

The Question

What will Dick Cheney give trick-or-treaters this year

"A playful waterboarding, followed by threats, if they don't tell him which house is handing out the fun-size Snickers."

-- Megan Carpentier, Air America

"An unexpectedly warm and firm hug." -- Baratunde Thurston, The Onion

"70,000 dead salmon from Oregon's Klamath River." -- Michael Grass, DCist.com

"Buckshot in the face, naturally." -- Eric Alterman, The Nation

***

In memoriam:Ted Kennedy's Legacy

From rather shaky political beginnings -- heir to his older brother's seat in 1962 (a family retainer warmed the seat for two years until young Teddy turned 30), one rough period after Chappaquiddick and another following his failed challenge to a sitting president in 1980 -- Ted Kennedy grew into a masterful legislator. Despite his privileged roots, Kennedy devoted his long career to improving the lot of regular Americans.

Now that he is gone, people who never saw him in action will find it hard to grasp how Kennedy could simultaneously be a principled liberal and a bipartisan force. He always understood that compromise was where you ended, not where you started.

Kennedy's achievements include a surprising number of laws where his name was twinned with Republicans, and not just moderate ones. He sponsored numerous bills -- recently, one to help victims of traumatic brain injuries -- with his good friend, Utah conservative Orrin Hatch. He joined with Republican Nancy Kassebaum to expand the program known as COBRA to allow workers who lose their jobs to keep their health insurance at least for a transitional time. And he worked tirelessly -- though ultimately unsuccessfully -- with Sen. John McCain to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Ted Kennedy even came together with George W. Bush on No Child Left Behind to get more resources into poor schools, before Bush double-crossed him and denied the promised funding while toughening the penalties.

Yet Kennedy was also a superbly effective partisan. When he was not cajoling Republicans, he was brilliantly outplaying them. He relentlessly pursued a hike in the minimum wage until enough Republicans were shamed into supporting it. And in July 2008, when Democrats were moving legislation to prevent Medicare payment cuts to doctors who treat seniors, military personnel, and families, Kennedy executed one of his most dazzling and courageous moves. Still weak from recent surgery and chemotherapy, Kennedy went secretly to Washington against the wishes of his doctors and cast the decisive vote that Democrats needed to overcome a filibuster. Once the Democrats had the votes, several Republicans broke ranks so as not to be on the wrong side of a popular issue, giving the sponsors a veto-proof margin.

Ted Kennedy was a great friend of The American Prospect. When we moved the magazine from Boston to Washington in 2001, I called Sen. Kennedy's office and asked if he would sponsor an event for us. He not only agreed but encouraged us to invite a group of 200 friends to his Washington home, where he was the most gracious of hosts. Arriving early, I encountered the senator alone, and he took me around the house showing mementos of one of America's great political families, with wit and warmth, as if he had not done the small tour thousands of times before. And when the magazine held a 15th birthday celebration in 2006, honoring Boston's progressive leaders including his wife Vicki, the senator spent a long evening vouching for the importance of the Prospect's work.

For one so prominent, he was remarkably unpretentious. In a profession where extreme narcissism is an occupational hazard, he did not have an outsized ego.

In recognizing politics as the art of the possible, Kennedy never sought the safe center. He was always pushing the boundaries in a more progressive direction. It is a mark of both his high principle and his tactical genius that the Senate's most effective legislative leader was also one of its most progressive members -- not an easy feat.

If President Barack Obama wishes to honor Ted Kennedy's memory, he should do more than pass universal health reform. He should remember that great progressive leaders do not seek the center; they define a new center.

-- Robert Kuttner

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