By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
It is often observed of JFK that his legislative agenda, particularly with regard to civil and voting rights, was stalled on the Hill in November, 1963. The national grief surrounding Kennedy's assassination, the analysis goes, gave LBJ an opportunity to enact many of Kennedy's priorities. Speaking to Congress five days after JFK was assassinated, Johnson observed that the late president had exhorted in his inaugural, "let us begin." Johnson added: "Today in this moment of new resolve, I would say to all my fellow Americans, let us continue."
Ted Kennedy's driving legislative priority was healthcare reform. He used to say that he would see it passed if it was the last thing he did. And as recently as Sunday, Sen. John McCain argued that Kennedy's absence due to illness had critically hampered that push—the Massachusetts senator was a master at legislative deal making and would have known how to advance the process. His absence left a legislative leadership void no senator has been capable of filling.
The nation suffered a great loss last night. This is one of the few times that the wall-to-wall coverage the cable "news" nets will give us over the next few hours and perhaps days is actually merited. (If you doubt it, go over to his Web site and check out the 54 page list of legislative accomplishments posted there.) It seems unlikely that Kennedy's death will have the national galvanizing effect that his brother's did, but I wonder if it could on a much smaller scale, among his 99 remaining colleagues in the Senate.