Senate succession rules, Camelot-style.
“It is vital for this Commonwealth to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate in the approximately five months between a vacancy and an election,” an ailing Ted Kennedy wrote the leaders of the Massachusetts General Court in a letter made public yesterday. “I therefore am writing to urge you to work together to amend the law through the normal legislative process to provide for a temporary gubernatorial appointment until the special election occurs.”
Five years ago, with high hopes of electing their junior U.S. senator to the presidency, the Massachusetts state legislature stripped the governor of the power to fill senatorial vacancies. Every Democrat voted for the measure. Then, the governor, Mitt Romney, was a Republican. Now, the governor is a Democrat.
Welcome to the banana commonwealth of Massachusetts, where more than fifty years of one-party dominance has fostered a make-up-the-rules-as-you-go-along mentality among those who make the rules. Almost a half century ago, in the infancy of the Democrats’ Bay State hegemony, Jack Kennedy maneuvered his baby brother Ted into a Senate seat, though he had never held a steady paying job (save a stint as an army private) prior to that point.
After his election to the presidency, John Kennedy refused to resign his Senate seat until the outgoing governor, a Democrat, agreed to appoint a seatwarmer senator — John Kennedy’s Harvard roommate — who would essentially cede the seat to Ted once he became constitutionally eligible. President-elect Kennedy threatened to allow the incoming Republican governor to make the appointment if the outgoing Democrat didn’t do his bidding.
With both nephew Joe Kennedy and wife Vicki Kennedy reportedly interested in the seat, Ted Kennedy seeks to orchestrate for the benefit of his relatives a repeat performance of the skullduggery that helped make him a senator in 1962. The banana commonwealth way of doing political business a half-century ago is still the way of doing political business in Massachusetts today. So is Ted Kennedy’s habit of abandoning professed principles for personal benefit.
Today, Ted Kennedy earns the moniker Senator Abortion. Thirty-four years ago this month, Kennedy wrote that “the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life.” He added that society has a “responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”
“The president is not above the law; he is not King George,” Kennedy wrote of George W. Bush in the Boston Globe in 2005. “Yet, with sorrow, we are now learning that in this great land we have an administration that has refused to follow well-crafted, longstanding procedures that require the president to get a court order before spying on people within the United States. With outrage, we learn that this administration believes that it does not have to follow the law of the land.”
Where was the “outrage” from Ted Kennedy when Attorney General Robert Kennedy authorized warrantless wiretapping on American citizens during John Kennedy’s Administration? Back then, Ted Kennedy rationalized that the snooping that his brothers proposed involved “wiretaps which would be in cases of national security” — the same argument advanced by “King George” forty years later.
By the early 1970s, Ted Kennedy claimed that President Richard Nixon prolonged the Vietnam War to enhance his chances of reelection. When the Vietnam War became unpopular in Massachusetts, he lamely claimed to have always opposed it. But in the mid-1960s, when the Vietnam War was still seen as fulfilling John Kennedy’s commitment to containing Communism in Asia, Ted Kennedy rallied hawks against the war’s critics, saying, “I wish they had raised their voices against Viet Cong terrorism, against Viet Cong murder, kidnapping, and political assassination.” Channeling his inner-Curtis LeMay, Senator Kennedy argued: “Any facilities in North Vietnam strengthening the Viet Cong should be bombed.”
As on Vietnam, abortion, warrantless wiretapping, and a host of other issues, Ted Kennedy has found a new position on filling Senate vacancies to better serve his interests. Brad Jones, Republican leader of the lower house of the Massachusetts General Court, claimed he was “shocked and appalled by the blatant hypocrisy being displayed in regards to the potential replacement of Senator Ted Kennedy.” Anyone following the career of Ted Kennedy might be appalled at this latest instance of hypocrisy. But “shocked”?
If Ted Kennedy, who has cast ballots on just 3 percent of the votes in the 111th Congress, were really concerned about Massachusetts losing full representation in the Senate, he would have resigned his seat fifteen months ago. Instead, the absentee senator’s motive, like his brother’s almost a half century ago, is to bequeath a Senate seat belonging to the voters of Massachusetts to a Kennedy heir. You can’t take a Senate seat with you. But you can will it to your wife or nephew — at least in Massachusetts.
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