Criticizing Kennedy, Tastefully

A thoughtful libertarian critique of Kennedy's legacy

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There are many great things to be said about the life and legacy of Senator Ted Kennedy, and, as with the passing of any cherished American figure, praise is not hard to find. There is, predictably, some criticism from the further reaches of the right, and it is about as tasteful as one would imagine. How, after all, could a writer effectively criticize the legacy of such a man on the day of his death without offending? One libertarian writer has done a pretty good job.

Nick Gillespie of Reason, whether or not you agree with his conclusions, argued coolly and dispassionately that Kennedy's political legacy is simply of another era. "He was of his time and place, a post-war America that figured that all the kinks of everyday life had been mastered by a few experts in government, business, and culture," Gillespie wrote. But, "In an increasingly flat, dispersed, networked world in which power, information, knowledge, purchasing power, and more was rapidly decentralizing," is Kennedy's approach still appropriate?

The legislation for which he will be remembered is precisely the sort of top-down, centralized legislation that needs to be jettisoned in the 21st century. Like Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) and the recently deposed Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Kennedy was in fact a man out of time, a bridge back to the past rather than a guide to the future. His mind-set was very much of a piece with a best-and-the-brightest, centralized mentality that has never served America well over the long haul.

Gillespie went on to analyze several of the hallmarks of Kennedy's legislative legacy, arguing that they would no longer work. He also celebrated, however, the Senator's more libertarian accomplishments.

"There is, buried deep within Kennedy's legislative legacy, a different set of policies worth exhuming and examining, precisely because they were truly a break with the normal way of doing business in Washington," he wrote. "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"

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.