As the nation mourns the loss of Ted Kennedy today, news coverage surrounding him is deservedly ubiquitous. MSNBC has literally only covered one story, except for checking on Mark Sanford’s resignation rebuff press conference five hours ago. CNN has been the same, and Fox News is close behind.
When a larger-than-life public official or public figure passes, be it Ted Kennedy, Michael Jackson, or Socks the Cat (okay, leaps and bounds below the others, but I felt like the mood begged for a dash of levity), this has become the norm and I suppose it is warranted. It makes us realize or re-realize the simple volume of their work, the impact of their pursuits that has affected our lives but is now taken for granted, and how much of history they have been a part of.
Usually with a death of this magnitude, which is about on par with a presidential loss (Gerald Ford’s death certainly got less coverage, if not his life), all media entities and public servants that decide to come on camera or do a phoner (that’s technical slang for a phone interview) are deferential, admiring, and inclined to pay tribute to the departed. They sometimes use the moment to call for action on an issue or honor the person’s life with a charitable cause he/she championed. I recall in 1997 in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s unfortunate passing, George Clooney held a press conference, and it was well-attended at that, to propose legislation and decry tabloids for their obsessive tendencies, in particular lambasting the paparazzi for their relentless reconnaissance to the point of celebrity endangerment.
Only there’s been a sly undercurrent to the coverage from lawmakers appearing to give interviewed eulogies about Teddy.
In his conversation with Andrea Mitchell, Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) had gracious, fond things to say about his Senate colleague, remarking that Kennedy “did understand that statesmanship involves working across lines.” Surely a truth, but also a well-placed one with an angle.
Some early reports suggested that maybe Kennedy’s legacy would be to push the health care legislation to a momentous passage. And with the pace that stories progress today, the topic inevitably came up with Bond. In an earlier age, the progression of the story to that point might have taken days, but Mitchell asked Bond what he thought of how Kennedy might have affected the pending legislation. “My view is that if he had been well and been here we might have had an opportunity to get a bipartisan health care bill.” He continued, “Clearly what has come down the pike, uh, is not at all bipartisan. And I believe that, uh, uh, Ted Kennedy if he were there would have signaled, ‘Time out, let’s go back and work together.’ ” Bond was absolutely complimentary, ending by saying Teddy was a “Real gentleman and a great guy to get along with.”
In a later segment on MSNBC, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), of all people, the man who clicked “undo” on his pursued Commerce Secretary appointment with Obama, had this comment to share: “There is nobody else like him. If he had been physically up to it and been engaged on this, we probably would have an agreement by now.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) echoed similar sentiments. “Teddy was the only Democrat who could move their whole base,” he said. “If he finally agreed, the whole base would come along even if they didn’t like it.”
Finally, none other than John McCain was on the record with some honorifics and subtle digs. “It’s huge that he’s absent,” saying that if Kennedy had been engaged in the debate in June, “I think the health care reform might be in a very different place today.”
Have you ever seen anything like this? “Let’s honor him by saying we cannot do something because he’s not here.” As opposed to, “Let’s rustle up the goodwill and compromise to do this in his spirit and with all deliberate purpose. Win one for The Lion!”
It’s as if in the history of the nation the only thing that could ever possibly save health care legislation is Ted Kennedy, and with his passing, now there is no hope. As if it were only he making some of the same political gestures to the Republicans, they would acquiesce.
It’s possible, but I am rather skeptical. Kennedy was a liberal lion but also a pragmatic politician, once called out by George W. Bush during the State of the Union for an instance of their cooperation: No Child Left Behind. However, when it came to health care he was a zealous supporter of universal care and no pushover. One commentator I saw recently conceded honestly that Kennedy essentially believed in socialized medicine. So, the idea, for good or ill, that he could have single-handedly salvaged this bipartisan effort, and that now is a justification for it to fail, seems very loaded.