Defending Ted Kennedy's Big Spending: "Well, That Is What the Government Is For"

Congressional reporter Carl Hulse on Thursday paid tribute to Sen. Ted Kennedy, diagnosed earlier this week with an inoperable brain tumor, in "Kennedy: A Little Like Everyone, a Lot Like No One Else." But Hulse went beyond acknowledging Kennedy's influence as a legislator to pushthefamous Massachusetts' senator'sbig-government worldview: "And if some of his solutions cost the government some money, well, that is what the government is for." Doesn't he mean "that's what taxpayers are for"?

Congress is rife with types: the Serious Legislator, the Bomb Thrower, the Show Horse, the Workhorse, the Blowhard, the Orator, the Partisan, the Statesman, the Prima Donna, the Mentor, the Old-fashioned Pol and the Visionary.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy is the rare man who shows flashes of them all, making him a singular senator, one of the last towering figures on a stage where the players and the performances seem to be shrinking even as the problems expand.


Mr. Kennedy has also dared to legislate at a time when passing laws has seemed less important than scoring political points. While others nibble around the policy edges, he has in recent years taken on immigration and a major education overhaul and played a primary role in the biggest expansion of Medicare since its inception. His efforts on immigration and the Medicare prescription drug benefit in particular made some of his own Democratic colleagues nervous as they feared he was so determined to legislate that he might deprive them of a political talking point.

Mr. Kennedy, 76, may be the last of his kind for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that few people will log nearly a half-century in the Senate. Mr. Kennedy sought an exit in 1980, running unsuccessfully for president. That failure unintentionally freed him to make his mark as a legislator, having a more significant impact over a longer period than a president could.

No mention of Mary Jo Kopechne as a reason Kennedy may not have wowed the voters in 1980.

But the culture is changing. Though this year has been an exception, ambitious politicians have not viewed the Senate as the best springboard to the White House, looking instead to governorships as they hope to avoid the Washington insider stigma.

Even those who choose Washington tend to specialize. Pursuing legislation can be tedious, time-consuming and highly frustrating. And few are willing to take the risks that Mr. Kennedy has in attacking the big topics of the day, hammering away at the injustices he sees, leaving him red-faced and shouting on the floor, his voice carrying into the surrounding hallways without benefit of C-Span. And if some of his solutions cost the government some money, well, that is what the government is for.

At least Hulse doesn't insist in calling Kennedy a "Democrat from Massachusetts" (not a liberal), as the Times usually does:

Mr. Kennedy is one of the Senate's few celebrities, yet he does not rely on that status to push his agenda. His signature skill is forging consensus on social initiatives. He is uniquely qualified to do it, a fierce liberal who has the credibility in his party to cut a deal with the opposition, and the confidence from the opposition that he will keep his word.