On July 16 this year, the New York Times published a story in which senators bemoaned the absence of Edward M. Kennedy during their work on health care reform legislation. It quotes Senator Tom Harkin as saying, “[Kennedy] would lend a gravitas to the issue that we’re kind of missing right now.” The idea is that Senator Kennedy would make a great difference if he could be in the senate.
Mr. Kennedy is absent from the senate because he is battling brain cancer. Having served his country for 47 years, he has personal matters to attend to. No one honestly believes that his absence is unjustified, but those who wail about it, as if to say, “If only Teddy were here, we could do this,” are doing the country and their constituents a disservice.
Mr. Kennedy, while a valuable member of the government, is not its lynchpin. The government functioned admirably without him for 186 years, and it will have to do so again. If the Senate is not taking the issue seriously enough, perhaps they should read the newspaper. The American people seem to think health care reform is a very serious issue.
Some say that Senator Kennedy would be able to build consensus. If the senate needs consensus, why not build some? Surely Senator Kennedy does not have a magic wand that he waves when he wants consensus. Some claim that the bill will be more partisan without Kennedy. If a bi-partisan bill is needed, why not write one?
The truth is that Mr. Kennedy, like every other member of the U.S. Senate is temporary. The day will come when he is not a senator, and somehow the country will have to carry on without him. Senators who hide behind his absence are making excuses for failing to act.
If the U.S. Senate fails to deliver a workable health care reform bill, Senators will need a much bigger figure to hide behind than Kennedy. Their failure will not be Kennedy’s fault, and Americans will not accept his absence as an excuse. Nature abhors a vacuum. Those who claim Kennedy’s leadership is needed should be looking around for someone to step up to the plate. They should be considering stepping up to the plate themselves. If they so honor Mr. Kennedy, they ought to do willingly what they have depended on him to do for almost 50 years.
On the other hand, if Senators are looking for an excuse to cave in to special interests, they should beware the wrath of voters. Americans may not agree on the solution, but most of them agree that the health care system is broken. They are expecting Congress to pass a law that addresses the problem. They are not willing to wait for the perfect solution to come along. If Senators do not feel they are up to the task because Mr. Kennedy is not there, perhaps they should resign.
Excuses are like lunchmeat. No matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney. Those who so admire Kennedy can do the entire nation a favor. When they miss him, they can think to themselves, “What would Teddy do?” and then do it.