Sept. 1, 2009
Unless you've been living on the moon, you've probably heard by now of the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. Given the excoriation regularly -- and usually deservedly -- endured by members of Congress, on this show and elsewhere, it's helpful to pause and remember a legislator who has dedicated his career to advancing the cause of the less fortunate.
The fact that Kennedy was born a patrician doesn't abrogate the work he's done. On the contrary, it throws his career into sharper relief. Despite being born with every possible advantage, he nonetheless had a guiding hand in every significant piece of progressive legislation enacted since he entered the Senate, from civil rights to education to health care, the cornerstone of his career.
Here's Ted, speaking in Alaska on the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It's one of the most cogent articulations I've ever heard of what it means to be a modern progressive.
And here's Ted at the 1980 Democratic convention, after running a quixotic primary challenge -- from the left -- against an incumbent president.
Let us pledge that we will never misuse unemployment, high interest rates, and human misery as false weapons against inflation.
Let us pledge that employment will be the first priority of our economic policy.
Let us pledge that there will be security for all those who are now at work, and let us pledge that there will be jobs for all who are out of work; and we will not compromise on the issues of jobs.
These are not simplistic pledges. Simply put, they are the heart of our tradition, and they have been the soul of our Party across the generations. It is the glory and the greatness of our tradition to speak for those who have no voice, to remember those who are forgotten, to respond to the frustrations and fulfill the aspirations of all Americans seeking a better life in a better land.
We dare not forsake that tradition.
The commitment I seek is not to outworn views but to old values that will never wear out. Programs may sometimes become obsolete, but the ideal of fairness always endures. Circumstances may change, but the work of compassion must continue. It is surely correct that we cannot solve problems by throwing money at them, but it is also correct that we dare not throw out our national problems onto a scrap heap of inattention and indifference. The poor may be out of political fashion, but they are not without human needs. The middle class may be angry, but they have not lost the dream that all Americans can advance together.
It takes me back to a time when, well, Democrats were Democrats.
And finally, we can't ignore the mythic proportions of Ted and his brothers. They were the American Gracchi.