The Right’s Ted Kennedy Crocodile Tears

The memorial for Sen. Ted Kennedy is later tonight. And while I couldn’t possibly hope to encapsulate the man’s extraordinary life and amazing achievements here, I do want to sound a warning: beware Republicans crying crocodile tears.

The GOP is engaging in some crass, crude political calculus on health care reform.  They’re worried that–considering Kennedy’s tireless work on behalf of reform and his decades-long struggle for universal health care–his death could become a rallying cry for the passage of health care reform.

So, in order to prevent that from happening, conservatives are crying crocodile tears over the “politicization” of Kennedy’s death. That’s right–the same folks who savaged Kennedy for most of his life, who strove to make his name synonymous with “radical liberal,” are now suddenly the self-appointed guardians of his legacy.

Absurd, right?

Look, Ted Kennedy supported health care reform. Here’s what he said after the health care reform bill passed through his Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee:

I could not be prouder of our committee,” Kennedy said in a written statement released Wednesday afternoon. “We have done the hard work that the American people sent us here to do.

“Extraordinary thanks go to Chris Dodd. No man has ever had a truer or more generous friend than he has been to me, and no cause has ever had a more able leader than he has been in the great effort to enact health reform.”

It’s not like conservatives can pretend that Democrats are slapping Kennedy’s name on something he wouldn’t have voted for–the health care reform bill was the culmination of decades of effort on the part of Kennedy and other Democrats who shared his vision.

And let’s not forget how much conservatives politicized the death of Ronald Reagan back in 2004. If you need a reminder, HuffPo has some choice quotes:

Rush Limbaugh:

“Back then, [Strategic Defense Initiative] was regarded much as the whole war in Iraq is today…Reagan was right just as George W. Bush is today and I really believe that if Reagan had been able he would have put his hand on Bush’s shoulder and say to him, ‘Stay the course, George.’

Bill Kristol, who gets bonus points for both politicizing Reagan’s death and urging Bush-Cheney ’04 to politicize it as well:

“[N]o one wants to politicize the death of a recent president.  But you know what? The Bush campaign should. And, in my view, they should go out with an ad next week, a very respectful ad about President Reagan and say, We have a disagreement. George W. Bush is a Reaganite. John Kerry thought the Reagan presidency was a period of moral darkness.”

Then-RNC Chair Ed Gillespie:

“Americans are going to be focused on President Reagan for the next week. The parallels [between Reagan and Bush] are there. I don’t know how you miss them.

Charles Krauthammer:

“[Reagan] was a large man with large ideas. He slipped a lot of the times. He had his difficulties, but in the end he was vindicated by history, if you get the big ideas right. And I think there’s a lot of application to President Bush, who also is interested in the big ideas in the war on terror, the war in Iraq, changing the economy, all of this.”

The Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign:

Bush directly sought to profit from Reagan’s passage. The campaign put a tribute page to the former president on its website. It also sent an e-mail inviting supporters to add to a “living memorial” for Reagan on the page. As the Boston Globe noted “one click away from the page,” was another page “that solicits campaign donations and recruits volunteers.

Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign manager Ken Mehlman:

In any election, voters can learn from what happened in the past. What happened in the past was that you had a leader [Reagan] who had a very bold agenda built around freedom — freedom at home, which meant lower taxes and less regulation, and freedom in the world. . . . The result of those policies was a country that was more prosperous and a world that was more free.”

In addition, this Washington Post article from June 8, 2004, sets the tone:

The death of former president Ronald Reagan has put Sen. John F. Kerry on the political sidelines, elevated President Bush to center stage and touched off a debate tinged by partisanship about the possible impact of Reagan’s legacy on the November election.

Republicans see the events surrounding Reagan’s death, coming at the end of a week in which Bush will have been visible on the world stage, as providing a potential circuit breaker from two months of unrelenting bad news in Iraq that has driven down Bush’s approval ratings and raised Democratic hopes for victory. They also believe that Reagan’s death will remind Americans of the effect of strong, if sometimes controversial, presidential leadership built on conservative convictions.

Their anticipation is that the week’s events will give Bush an opportunity to steady himself politically and assert his leadership in a time of national mourning for Reagan


Bush’s campaign has embraced the Reagan legacy, at least on its Web site, where the customary home page was replaced by a memorial to the former president that includes Bush’s tribute and links to eight of Reagan’s best-known speeches and his last letter to the American people announcing that he had Alzheimer’s disease.

[All emphasis mine]

Hypocrisy, much?

Look, conservatives hated Ted Kennedy.  And now they’re trying to get a final parting shot in by defeating a cause he spent decades championing.

Ted Kennedy spent nearly 50 years in politics, fighting for the people of this great country; I can think of no better way to celebrate his life than to champion the causes he believed in and to turn his vision of universal health care into reality.

Screw what conservatives think–let’s do it for Teddy. We all know it’s what he wanted; he told us as much before he passed away.

[NOTE: I’m not saying that all conservatives are doing this, or that there are no conservatives who are genuinely sad that Kennedy is gone. I’m discussing a particular subset of conservative here; this post shouldn’t be construed as painting all conservatives with the same broad brush.]