Do Democrats really have anything to learn from Senator Kennedy's failed attempts at health care reform?
One of the questions surrounding Edward Kennedy's death asks how his passing will affect the fate of health care reform legislation. Senator Kennedy represented an old generation of Democratic politicians. It is the responsibility of the new generation--the reins having been handed over most poignantly during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, when an ailing Kennedy introduced then-candidate Obama--to learn from Kennedy's example.
Back in 1993, when President Clinton's health care policy came under attack by--and then surrendered to--the Harry and Louise advertisements, Senator Kennedy's clout could not save it. Kennedy's fervent participation in Clinton's attempts at reform did little to curb public resentment of the program. Though he was never the symbolic figurehead fighting Harry and Louise, he was the contemporary lawmaker who denounced as propaganda the sentiments that the commercials brewed. Does his failure at dispelling the negative feelings in 1993 speak to his power--or lack thereof--to inspire health care reform from the grave?
Who are the Harrys and Louises of today? And who is the Ted Kennedy of today, now that the last lion is gone? Present day Harrys and Louises are no longer advertisements on TV that you can turn off (though Harry and Louise are slated to return to our televisions soon, albeit singing a different tune); their successors are viral, not necessarily coming from outside interest groups or lobbyists, but from the people. The health care town halls of the last month evoked the same feelings that the Harry and Louis advertisements tapped into over 15 years ago. Statements comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler fly at town hall meetings. Is it up to legislators like Barney Frank, Max Baucus, and Chris Dodd to fight for reform, even after Harry and Louise have changed sides? Is President Obama Senator Kennedy's chosen successor in the fight of health care reform or does he serve as a figurehead? The question is whether the new generation--entrenched in the new age of internet and nonstop communication when every voice can potentially be heard--can apprehend and respond to these feelings more adequately than the old generation did.