The Kennedy narrative

August 26th, 2009  |  Tags:  |  4 Comments

Nick Gillespie’s essay on Ted Kennedy is worth reading. Gillespie notes the utter tedium of mass-media reactions to the deaths of major public figures1; points out that, contra his hyperpartisan reputation, Sen. Kennedy was more than willing to reach across the aisle to Republicans who were willing to expand the scope of government; and argues that Kennedy represents “a bridge back to the past rather than a guide to the future,” a legislator whose solutions to problems invariably involved increasing the authority, reach, and responsibility of the government, and whose policy desiderata always depended on having Extremely Smart People consistently making the Right Decisions to bind the wills and actions of the rabble, in true “pyramid power” fashion.

Gillespie, like almost every other commentator today, fails to mention a more obvious way in which Kennedy represents “a bridge back to the past,” albeit one without a guardrail. Kennedy managed to benefit from norms — seemingly anachronistic even forty years ago — that rendered appalling negligence and homicide legally excusable if the perpetrator was sufficiently wealthy and connected. This omission is understandable, since Kennedy’s supporters have long since absolved him and his detractors are surely incapable of hearing his name without recalling Mary Jo Kopechne whether the slain woman is explicitly mentioned or not. But Gillespie does mention another vastly underreported point: Kennedy was a key participant in the deregulation of the interstate trucking and airline industries, which have each had overwhelmingly positive consequences. Gillespie’s summary of these presents a kind and generous eulogy for the late senator:

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.

1 This really can’t be overemphasized, especially since the “social web” has made nearly everyone into a low-budget cable news pundit. (Fear not: I recognize the rich irony of throwing such stones from a weblog post.)