Jimmy Carter was right about Ted Kennedy.
“The fact is that we would have had comprehensive health care now, had it not been for Ted Kennedy’s deliberately blocking the legislation that I proposed,” former President Jimmy Carter told 60 Minutes last night. “It was his fault. Ted Kennedy killed the bill.”
Carter’s observation, fleshed out in his newly published diaries from his presidency, may seem shocking to Democrats who posthumously credit Kennedy with the health-care bill passed earlier this year. But for anyone who has followed the last brother’s forty-seven years in the Senate, Carter’s complaint rings true. Ted Kennedy was a party cannibal who built his career devouring fellow Democrats.
Prior to becoming a United States Senator in 1962, Kennedy had cast ballots in just three of sixteen elections in which he had been eligible. Tellingly, his brother John had been on the ballot in each of the contests in which he bothered to vote. The young playboy even sat on his hands when Adlai Stevenson, who had passed over John Kennedy for his running-mate, ran for president in 1956. Ted’s apathy served the Democrats’ interests better than his older brother Bobby’s vindictiveness, which led him to vote Republican for Dwight Eisenhower.
“If Mr. Kennedy wants people to vote for him for the highest legislative office in the world,” Kennedy’s 1962 Democratic primary opponent opined, “I feel he owes an explanation to the people of Massachusetts and to the city of Boston as to why he did not vote for anyone other than a Kennedy in the period between 1953 and 1960.”
After hawkishly coming out for the war his brother John started, Ted blasted President Lyndon Johnson for overseeing the Vietnam War once it became unpopular among northeastern liberals. Sensing 1972 a bad year for Democrats, Kennedy rebuffed George McGovern’s overtures to serve as his running mate and then blackballed Boston Mayor Kevin White from appearing on the national ticket. The result of such pettiness? Vice presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton, the most damaging candidate to a national ticket in the history of presidential politics. The quadrennial presidential dream candidate among the base of the Democratic Party, Kennedy misled the party on a leftward journey — which coincided with its exclusion from the White House in all but four years from 1968 to 1992 — that reflected the political migration of his Massachusetts constituents but ran against the grain of the rightward direction of America.
In 1980, Ted Kennedy ran a rule-or-ruin campaign for the presidency long after he had been mathematically eliminated. Rather than endorse Jimmy Carter, who had trounced him in the primaries, Kennedy held out for platform concessions, fundraising help, and a prime-time speech that benefited himself but not his party’s nominee. Most memorably, the rehearsed moment when vanquished was supposed to raise the victor’s hand in triumph before cheering delegates never happened. Kennedy suffered from a case of sore-loseritis, resulting in one of the more awkward moments in convention history.
Kennedy’s attacks on Democrats who paid insufficient homage to his family’s name continued through the 2008 presidential election. Miffed that Hillary Clinton had stood by in 2008 as another speaker credited Lyndon Johnson, and not John Kennedy, with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Ted Kennedy later underwent what a Kennedy confidante described to the Washington Post as a “meltdown” when Clinton said on the campaign trail that “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act.” Never mind that President John F. Kennedy tried to stop the landmark March on Washington and that Attorney General Robert Kennedy bugged Martin Luther King’s hotel rooms and tapped his phones.
“Sources say Kennedy was privately furious at Clinton for her praise of President Lyndon Baines Johnson for getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act accomplished,” the Washington Post’s Mary Ann Akers reported. “Jealously guarding the legacy of the Kennedy family dynasty, Senator Kennedy felt Clinton’s LBJ comments were an implicit slight of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, who first proposed the landmark civil rights initiative in a famous televised civil rights address in June 1963.”
Ted Kennedy got an apology from Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama got his endorsement.
Even from the grave, Ted Kennedy undermines his party for the benefit of his name. Massachusetts legislators have already earmarked more than $38 million in federal tax-dollars for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, with tens of millions more hoped for from Washington. The Boston shrine became an embarrassment for Bay State lawmakers when the Boston Herald exposed the pork-barrel spending, much of it siphoned from the Department of Defense’s budget, in April.
Who has money for two wars when there is a Temple of Ted to be built?
Like so many of the late Senator’s paramours, the Democratic Party loved Ted Kennedy more the worse he treated it. “What would Teddy do?” Washington Senator Patty Murray told the New York Times in the midst of the ObamaCare debate. “We’re all working to do what we think he’d want us to do.” Working as his own booster, Ted Kennedy, or his ghostwriter, boasted in Newsweek weeks before his 2009 death: “For four decades I have carried this cause — from the floor of the United States Senate to every part of this country.”
But take it from Jimmy Carter. Ted Kennedy was never Mr. Universal Health Care. He was always Mr. Ted Kennedy.
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