In all likelihood we are about to see Ted Kennedy’s name dragged through the mire by pathological right-wing sleazebags. Before that happens, I’d like to thank a guy who spent four decades trying to keep phrases like “a fair society” and “economic justice” from completely disappearing from America’s lexicon and its conceptual vocabulary. The idea that society could actually be more or less fair is really not so fantastical or revolutionary. In fact, if you stopped most Americans on the street and asked them, “Do you think society should be fair?”, they would probably answer yes. But for some reason only a few politicians seem to be willing to run on that bedrock principle, and Ted Kennedy was one of them.
It’s only natural that for somebody who believes in fairness, universal health insurance and education are the places to start. I first heard of Ted Kennedy in 1980, when I was in 6th grade, and he ran a primary campaign that challenged Jimmy Carter from the left. The theme of the campaign was that Carter had gone so far towards placating centrist deficit hawks and defense hawks that he had lost any clear focus on what it meant to be a Democrat, to stand for social justice. Kennedy lost the campaign. This is a quote from his concession speech. Remember, it is August 12, 1980.
We cannot have a fair prosperity in isolation from a fair society. So I will continue to stand for a national health insurance. We must — We must not surrender — We must not surrender to the relentless medical inflation that can bankrupt almost anyone and that may soon break the budgets of government at every level. Let us insist on real controls over what doctors and hospitals can charge, and let us resolve that the state of a family’s health shall never depend on the size of a family’s wealth.
The President, the Vice President, the members of Congress have a medical plan that meets their needs in full, and whenever senators and representatives catch a little cold, the Capitol physician will see them immediately, treat them promptly, fill a prescription on the spot. We do not get a bill even if we ask for it, and when do you think was the last time a member of Congress asked for a bill from the Federal Government? And I say again, as I have before, if health insurance is good enough for the President, the Vice President, the Congress of the United States, then it’s good enough for you and every family in America.
As I just wrote on the Economist’s Democracy in America blog, Ted Kennedy could stand up and make that speech today, and he wouldn’t have to change a word. It is as true today as it was 29 years ago. Go read the rest there. Meanwhile, it would be really nice if Kennedy’s death helped focus Democrats on pushing through the universal health insurance he spent his life trying to achieve.
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