The One Vs. The Many
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the far right’s reaction to Senator Ted Kennedy’s death, aside from the ghoulish grave-stomping, is their immediate attempts to revise the history that they find inconvenient. It’s perhaps not too much of a stretch to say that, like obituary editors, they already had their talking points all lined up while the senator was still among us. And posthumous ones dutifully echoing Sean Hannity and Rush warn us of "the Wellstone Effect."
Yet, as with the larger issue of health care reform, every time someone from the lunatic fringe far right speaks, they betray their hypocrisy, starting with their kneejerk reaction to Sen. Robert Byrd’s call to name the health care bill after Ted Kennedy. This is only appropriate, since health care, moreso than with virtually any other statesman or legislator during Kennedy’s career, was one of his highest priorities.
How soon they forget the first draft hagiographies that spurted forth from journalist’s pens when Reagan died in 2004. How soon they forget that, even before Reagan’s death, his wife Nancy wrote a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch pleading for Congress to fund stem cell research so that others wouldn’t suffer from Alzheimer’s like her husband. It was a surprising turnaround, since funding stem cell research rubs against the grain of virtually every Republican in the land. But Nancy Reagan had pull with the GOP and still does.
Instead, we’re seeing Kennedy’s death and Byrd’s call to use Kennedy’s death to push a comprehensive health reform bill being politicized to cartoonish proportions.
However, considering this is the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, making for more compelling dual portraits by contrast is Kennedy’s legacy when compared to that of another Republican “president”: George W. Bush. Daily Kos’ Louisiana wrote a diary that extolled Ted Kennedy’s lobbying on behalf of the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. What was lost on the diarist were the monstrous ironies between Ted Kennedy’s understated but heroic conduct and that of George W. Bush.
Kennedy called, unsuccessfully, for the creation of a cabinet-level Gulf Coast Redevelopment Authority. George W. Bush suggested Karl Rove as Reconstruction Czar long after demoting FEMA from a Cabinet-level authority to a mockery headed up by an Arabian horse judge. It was Reconstruction all over again, all right. One year after the storm made landfall, 81% of the residents of the 9th Ward still hadn’t been returned and people were forcibly evicted from apartment buildings that hadn’t been touched by a drop of water and were condemned.
Before Kennedy had called for a Cabinet-level authority to rebuild the Gulf coast, FEMA had already outsourced the job for a city-wide evacuation to IEM, or Innovative Emergency Management, a client of a lobbying firm named The Livingston Group. IEM is headed by Madhu Beriwal, a heavy GOP campaign contributor, a woman, like Michael Brown, with no emergency management experience whatsoever, who nonetheless was paid $500,000 to come up with an evacuation plan that was never written in spite of a computer scenario underwritten by three contractors, among them IEM, that eerily anticipated what a Category 5 hurricane could do (After Katrina made landfall, their boasting of landing such a huge contract for an evacuation plan was mysteriously lifted from the company’s website.). Lost on critics of Kennedy is that if Bush hadn’t underfunded the levee reconstruction, if his campaign contributors at IEM had done their job, Kennedy’s call for a Gulf Coast Redevelopment Authority wouldn’t have been necessary.
Ted Kennedy accidentally drowned one woman. George Bush knowingly let over 1500 drown, knowing by Monday night that the levees had burst and not letting even the emergency management authorities in New Orleans know, much less the tens of thousands that were trapped. He also deliberately underfunded the Army Corps of Engineers, who only got a tiny fraction of the money they said they needed to rebuild the levees and pump stations. Bush also lied about knowing how fragile the levees were, saying that “no one could’ve anticipated the breach of the levees.”
Ted Kennedy called his actions the night Mary Jo Kopechne drowned “indefensible.” Bush scuffled his feet in place and murmured something about taking “responsibility” for FEMA’s response to the disaster then three and a half years later essentially taking it back by snarling at a reporter in the last days of his administration that he didn’t want to hear about what they didn’t do. “We pulled 30,000 off their roofs.”
Beyond Bush, we see other stalwarts from the Party of Personal Responsibility such as Sen. John Ensign, who’s still bleating, I didn’t do anything legally wrong, unlike Bill Clinton. We’re seeing Republicans giving other philanderers such as Sen. David Vitter a standing ovation for coming out about his own marital infidelity only when he knew someone was going to expose him. Amazingly, two years later, Vitter’s actually getting a respectful hearing even after telling people in all-white Elmwood why Obama’s health care reforms would be worse for them than what they already have.
Tom DeLay, even after Randall “Duke” Cunningham confessed to accepting $2.4 million in bribes, still called the most corrupt congressman in the history of our Republic “a hero” and “an honorable man of high integrity.”
We saw a GOP leadership that closed ranks around child endangerment crusader Mark Foley for years on end even while knowing that Foley was leering at underaged pages and making sexually explicit remarks to them in emails and online chats. We heard about Karl Rove threatening to block Foley’s dreams of being a lobbyist unless he ran for another term, thereby exposing him to more underaged pages, because he was a GOP cash cow.
All things considered, I’d say that Ted Kennedy throwing himself on the mercy of the American people, without whining about victimization and without offering excuses, qualifies him as being the standard bearer for the true Party of Personal Responsibility.