OK, that's my headline. Here's the Boston Globe's gloss on the last words as a senator of Paul Kirk (D-Mass.), who filled out Ted Kennedy's seat and warmed the chair before Republican Scott Brown gets to town after one of the most stunning upsets in recent electoral history:
…"Will the Democratic majority, despite its still solid numerical advantage, be forced to cling to a 60-vote strategy as the only path to forward progress?" he continued. "Will the Republican minority misread the results from Massachusetts as vindication of a strategy to 'Just say no' to any measure proposed by a Democratic president of the United States or by their colleagues on this side of the aisle?"
Everyone who knows Kirk says he's a good man. I'm sure, but please, don't let the door hit you on the way out.
Here's a news flash: The health care bill was wildly unpopular among the rubes what was going to pay for the damn thing, both in dollars and lower-quality services. Saying no in this case was not a bad thing, but the right thing to do. Kirk would have done better to stress to his Democratic colleagues that they need to wake up if they couldn't pass legislation with a 60 percent majority. I mean, seriously, how bad do you have to be to screw that up, especially after buying off the odd senator here and there, the drug industry, etc.?
Anyhoo, the spirit of bipartisanship–you know that get-alongism that brought us the Patriot Act, TARP, and other disasters–is wildly overrated. As is Ted Kennedy's cross-party legislation. As I wrote when the "liberal lion" went to that great Au Bar in the sky, his big bipartisan "successes" such as No Child Left Behind, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit are all abject failures in their stated goals:
Consider No Child Left Behind. In the guise of giving students and parents the ability to opt out of objectively failing schools, it instead ramped up federal education spending (by more than 40 percent) to unprecedented levels; additionally, it has imposed significant costs on state and local budgets. More than that, it has mired public education in even more bureaucratic rigaramole. At the same time, it has accomplished nothing toward its stated goal of "closing the achievement gap" between lower-income minorities and white students. Something similar holds for the Americans with Disabilities Act, whose passage created vast new legal and governmental procedures that have impacted virtually every aspect of American life, all without actually increasing the income or workforce participation rates of the disabled. The Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, another law in which Kennedy played a major role, is the very definition of an explosively expensive government boondoggle that shuffled tax dollars from the relatively young and poor to the relatively old and wealthy.
And yet, Kennedy should be remembered for a very different set of laws he was instrumental in passing, though these aren't the legacies anyone is remembering.
During the 1970s, Kennedy was instrumental in deregulating the interstate trucking industry and airline ticket prices, two innovations that have vastly improved the quality of life in America even as—or more precisely, because—they pushed power out of D.C. and into the pocketbooks of everyday Americans. We are incalculably richer and better off because something like actual prices replaced regulatory fiat in trucking and flying. Because they do not fit the Ted Kennedy narrative preferred by his admirers and detractors alike, these accomplishments rarely get mentioned in stories about the late senator. But they are exactly the sort of legislation that we should be celebrating in his honor, and using as a model in today's debates about health care, education, and virtually every aspect of government action.
Leave it to outgoing pols to draw the wrong lessons from history. Let's hope that voters going forward don't compound that particular knowledge problem.
Bonus video (made before Kennedy's passing last year, btw): What if government ran health care? (Sprint Ad Remix)