Name the Public Option for Ted Kennedy

For several weeks now it has occurred to me that the cause of achieving a real health care reform bill in Congress would be advanced if the public insurance option in it had a name — something more specific than “the public option”.

You know, how Medicare is called Medicare and Social Security is called Social Security? Giving things names helps imbue them with meaning, endows them with a more potent sense of reality.

That’s why I had one of those “Aha!” moments when I read David Waldman’s post last week at the Congress Matters blog “Name the public option, not the bill, after Kennedy”.

Following the sad passing of Ted Kennedy, a host of Democrats including the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) had begun very sympathetic and heartfelt calls to name the entire (but still far from finalized) health care bill for Senator Edward Kennedy.

For forty-seven years Ted Kennedy was the single strongest advocate for health care reform and for quality health care as a right, not simply a privilege for those who could afford it. His absence from the Senate during his illness this year still did not deter him from weighing in to support the public option:

“Kennedy has co-sponsored a resolution introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and 26 other Democratic senators that declares the healthcare reform legislation the Senate will consider this summer must include a public plan option people can choose instead of private insurance. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also co-sponsored the resolution.”

David Waldman’s suggestion to name the public option for Ted Kennedy now makes both political and moral sense.

“Let the affordable health care coverage itself that the public option will make available be what carries Kennedy’s name. Like the (Sen. William) Roth IRA (established in a Republican reconciliation bill, by the way), (Sen. Claiborne) Pell grants, or (Sen. J. William) Fulbright scholarships, we and future generations of Americans should enjoy comprehensive coverage under the Kennedy Health Care Plan.”

As David correctly notes, versions of the bill itself may be weakened during coming legislative fisticuffs — especially if the Max Baucus Secret Caucus in the Senate Finance Committee has a lot to do with it. But the public option is in all the current House versions and in Senator Kennedy’s HELP Committee version, thanks to the leadership of Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and his Democratic colleagues. Naming the public option for Ted Kennedy now would help establish its place in the bill, making it all the more difficult for any Democrat to oppose it.

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake likes the idea too. How could Congress add the Kennedy name to the plan? David Waldman says it’s easy: “just put it there”. And if, in the end, the entire bill does measure up to the Kennedy standards for real reform, then the bill itself can be named for him even after it passes.

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“The Dream Shall Never Die”

This passage is the most remembered from Ted Kennedy’s 1980 Democratic National Convention speech:

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

On this day, though, it is worth revisiting and truly dwelling on the work, the cause, the hope, the dream he expressed throughout the speech, and throughout his career.

Let us pledge that we will never misuse unemployment, high interest rates, and human misery as false weapons against inflation.

Let us pledge that employment will be the first priority of our economic policy.

Let us pledge that there will be security for all those who are now at work, and let us pledge that there will be jobs for all who are out of work; and we will not compromise on the issues of jobs.

These are not simplistic pledges. Simply put, they are the heart of our tradition, and they have been the soul of our Party across the generations. It is the glory and the greatness of our tradition to speak for those who have no voice, to remember those who are forgotten, to respond to the frustrations and fulfill the aspirations of all Americans seeking a better life in a better land.

We dare not forsake that tradition.

We cannot let the great purposes of the Democratic Party become the bygone passages of history.

We must not permit the Republicans to seize and run on the slogans of prosperity. We heard the orators at their convention all trying to talk like Democrats. They proved that even Republican nominees can quote Franklin Roosevelt to their own purpose.


The commitment I seek is not to outworn views but to old values that will never wear out. Programs may sometimes become obsolete, but the ideal of fairness always endures. Circumstances may change, but the work of compassion must continue. It is surely correct that we cannot solve problems by throwing money at them, but it is also correct that we dare not throw out our national problems onto a scrap heap of inattention and indifference. The poor may be out of political fashion, but they are not without human needs. The middle class may be angry, but they have not lost the dream that all Americans can advance together.

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Honoring Sen. Ted Kennedy

There are and will be a host of tributes to Ted Kennedy, who deserves every one. Of course, the greatest tribute to him would be passing real health care reform. Of people who would say that somehow politicizes his death, I’d ask what could be more appropriate than to carry out the man’s greatest wish, what he called “the cause of my life,” the thing that he kept fighting for throughout his final illness?

That should be our focus moving forward. But the life he lived is more than worth stopping and taking some time to honor.

President Obama:

I wanted to say a few words this morning about the passing of an extraordinary leader, Senator Edward Kennedy.

Over the past several years, I’ve had the honor to call Teddy a colleague, a counselor, and a friend. And even though we have known this day was coming for some time now, we awaited it with no small amount of dread.

Since Teddy’s diagnosis last year, we’ve seen the courage with which he battled his illness. And while these months have no doubt been difficult for him, they’ve also let him hear from people in every corner of our nation and from around the world just how much he meant to all of us. His fight has given us the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us: the blessing of time to say thank you — and goodbye.

The outpouring of love, gratitude, and fond memories to which we’ve all borne witness is a testament to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives. His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives — in seniors who know new dignity, in families that know new opportunity, in children who know education’s promise, and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just — including myself.

The Kennedy name is synonymous with the Democratic Party. And at times, Ted was the target of partisan campaign attacks. But in the United States Senate, I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle. His seriousness of purpose was perpetually matched by humility, warmth, and good cheer. He could passionately battle others and do so peerlessly on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintain warm friendships across party lines.
And that’s one reason he became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy.

His extraordinary life on this earth has come to an end. And the extraordinary good that he did lives on. For his family, he was a guardian. For America, he was the defender of a dream.

I spoke earlier this morning to Senator Kennedy’s beloved wife, Vicki, who was to the end such a wonderful source of encouragement and strength. Our thoughts and prayers are with her, his children Kara, Edward, and Patrick; his stepchildren Curran and Caroline; the entire Kennedy family; decades’ worth of his staff; the people of Massachusetts; and all Americans who, like us, loved Ted Kennedy.

Robert Scheer in The Nation.

The light has gone out, and with it that infectious warm laugh and intensely progressive commitment of the best of the Kennedys. Not, at this point, to take anything away from the memory of his siblings–Bobby, whom I also got to know, was pretty terrific in his last years–but Senator Ted Kennedy was the real deal.

Unable to move with his brothers’ intellectual alacrity, sometimes plodding in impromptu expression but smooth and skillful while reading from a script, the youngest Kennedy made up for his shortcomings early in his Senate career by resolutely working the substance of issues. His principled determination, plus his capacity to truly care about the real-world outcomes of legislation for ordinary people rather than its impact on his or anyone else’s election, became his signature qualities as a lawmaker. But for those same reasons, he also wanted legislation passed, and his ability to work with the opposition, as he did three years ago with John McCain on immigration reform, now grants him a legacy as one of the nation’s great senators.

Meteor Blades at Daily Kos.

Kennedy was a liberal fighter in the old mold. The plethora of legislation he helped pass made life better for children, for the poor, for African-Americans, for immigrants, for workers. He didn’t just give lip service to the rights of workers, he stood in their corner. He fought for access to health care and for quality education. And he opposed the likes of Robert Bork and others who wanted to trash the gains American women, workers and minorities had made over the years.