A fixture of local politics has passed away today after battling brain cancer. Senator Kennedy's accomplishments catapult him to legendary status as a legislative powerhouse where he dominated for decades. Most reactions on the local radio stations have been emotional recollections of how Kennedy personally affected their lives. Several callers fondly recalled incidents where Kennedy's office returned phone calls, emails or had personal interactions that distinguished Kennedy from other politicians. General premise has been that Kennedy fought for the little guy and several pieces of legislation in the field of equality and labor prove that premise. Pundits on the web and commentators are extremely careful to talk ill of a man who just passed putting aside all criticism. Why? Kennedy was a public figure and his actions have to be viewed equally and we can do so fairly without engaging in personal attacks. Personally, I find Kennedy's accomplishments to be a mixed bag and worthy of scrutiny, especially on a day where Americans are "googling" for everything Kennedy.
Chappaquiddick: For starters, let us begin with Chappaquiddick an incident that most old timers and political enthusiasts know very well. In a nutshell, the story goes like this. In the summer of 1969, Kennedy drove Mary Jo Kopechne from a party they were attending. Due to a series of unfortunate events, Kennedy accidentally drove off the bridge, as the car sank Kennedy was able to escape the vehicle and rise to the surface. Unfortunately Mary Jo for whatever reason was unable to do the same. I believe an average man involved in exactly the same incident would have served many years in jail for manslaughter charges. A secret inquiry concluded that Kennedy was negligent, but no formal charges were ever pressed. To learn more about this incident see Jeff Jacoby's piece where he raises several important questions. Most agree, Kennedy's presidential hopes were dashed as the incident gained national exposure, but Mary Jo's death did not prevent the Senator from numerous re-elections, power, fame and stature.
Let us also briefly explore some of Kennedy's legislative accomplishments, for that truly defined his work as a Senator.
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965: Kennedy's claim to fame based on his ideas that lifting immigration caps would not result in a drastic change of the country's demographic, nor would it upset the flow of immigrants from heavily populated areas. While it was difficult to predict at the time what effects a bill like this would have on the nation and regrettably many southern states opposed the bill on racial grounds, the effects are clear. Kennedy's assessment was dramatically wrong with the most dire result affecting the influx of illegal immigrants, shifting immigration from European countries to Latin American. Even though Kennedy convinced Reagan to to sign the 1986 Immigration Amnesty, the problem of illegal immigrants continues to the day. It is no wonder Reagan regretted signing the amnesty, because it simply encouraged more and more illegals to flood the country in hopes of another quick path to easy citizenship. While I am by no means opposed to immigration, being an immigrant myself, my family spent one year in transit and while doing so we learned English enabling my father to find a job avoiding the need for welfare. The same cannot be said about the millions of illegals who are now crippling our hospitals, schools and police force. If we cannot control our borders and take in immigration at a pace we can absorb, we will buckle under the pressure. Read Reagan's former attorney general's opinion on Amnesty as he reflected on the 1986 Amnesty ( a direct result of Kennedy's work) and how it relates to modern immigration questions.
"There is a practical problem as well: the 1986 act did not solve our illegal immigration problem. From the start, there was widespread document fraud by applicants. Unsurprisingly, the number of people applying for amnesty far exceeded projections. And there proved to be a failure of political will in enforcing new laws against employers."
No Child Left Behind Act: As much a legacy of Bush as it is Kennedy, this act aims at improving education by raising and creating stringent testing. States are then left to administer the testing that meet their standards and based on these standards, the act will determine whether federal funding will be administered. First glaring issue is the spending of federal moneys on improving schools. Why should nationally collected tax funds be spent on improving some random school in some random city in some random state? The sole responsibility of education should fall on the state, not the federal government. Beyond that, states immediately undermine the entire act by setting their own standards! So if a state like Missouri realizes that their students will be unable to pass the state and will not be eligible for funding, they can just lower the standards, and they did exactly that. Who wins? Greedy administrators looking out for federal handouts. Who loses? Students, instead of being pushed harder now have relaxed testing requirements. Furthermore standardized testing employs a one-size-fits-all approach to education, a system that cannot be effective as each students learn at his or her own pace. Instead of allowing parents and teachers to create a suitable system, we now have states extorting federal aid on the account of little Johnny passing or failing a test. Lastly, as schools focus on having kids pass these standardized tests the complexity and creativity of the curriculum suffers, why spend energy on subjects that will never be tested? This has the effect of undermining development and punishing the bell curve ends of both gifted and poor students. Instead of having our property taxes pay for local schools, we instead send the money to out of touch administrators in Washington who pass it down to out of touch State administrators who redistribute the funds where they see fit while introducing mismanagement, corruption and fraud. Sad. Read Bill Clinton's criticism of the act.
in 2001, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., voted for the No Child Left Behind Act, but has since said it was mismanaged and should be replaced.
Views: Perhaps the most telling of Kennedy's approaches and fundamental believes can be understood from a hearing where Milton Friedman was testifying. Friedman spoke of many times about amending the constitution to impose economic laws, specifically a balanced budget. Kennedy opposed such a proposal, regrettably, considering our dire debt and deficit situation. Kennedy's argument at the time was the inability to spend would compromise distributing wealth, goods and services. Aghast at this claim, Friedman asked:
"Senator, socialism hasn't worked in 6,000 years of recorded history," explained Friedman. "Why won't you give up on it?"
To which the late Senator emphatically responded.
"It hasn't worked in 6,000 years of recorded history because it didn't have me to run it."
As is typical of socialists good intentions do not justify the ends. Failure of socialism is the inability to correctly consider all individual needs and ill effects of a one-fit-all approach. Kennedy may have created numerous incidents of people benefiting, but ignoring the broader consequences of such policies clouds judgment and loses sight of reality. We must learn from mistakes of such broad legislation, ask questions and avoid being blinded by benevolence.
R.I.P Ted Kennedy.