Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Ends and Means

Sen. Edward Kennedy is gravely ill with cancer. Beyond his medical problems he and his party face a political problem: If Kennedy is unable to attend Senate sessions and cast votes, the 59 other Democratic senators might be stymied if health care legislation needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. If Kennedy dies or resigns, his successor will be the winner of a special election to be held within five months of the vacancy in the Senate. No provision in Massachusetts law allows for a vacant Senate seat to be filled before that special election.

No provision in current law, that is. Before 2004, the governor would appoint someone to fill a vacant Senate seat, a procedure used by many states. The law was changed by the Democratic state legislature that year to prevent Gov. Mitt Romney from appointing a Republican to the Senate in the event that John Kerry won the presidency.

Now, Kennedy has asked that the law be . . . adjusted. In a letter to the governor and legislative leaders of Massachusetts, Kennedy calls on the legislature to give the governor, no longer a Republican, the power to appoint an interim senator to serve until the special election is held. The request, according to the Boston Globe, "puts Massachusetts lawmakers in a delicate position" because "Democratic lawmakers [are] nervous about being accused of engineering a self-serving change to help their party."

Kennedy's request puts some prominent advocates of Obamacare in a delicate position, as well. Michael Tomasky, for example, says, "If Republicans were up to this sort of thing, to pass a major tax-cut bill, would I criticize it? Quite frankly, I probably would. So, as much as I want health-care reform to pass, I can't quite put my heart into defending this. . . . I'll certainly grant that changing a law that's just five years old that was changed for political reasons in the first place is not the best way to do things."

Other liberal bloggers are not so fastidious. Ethics, schmethics, according to Matthew Yglesias: "When you have a state whose state legislature is firmly and forever in the hands of one political party, the smart thing is for the legislature to be constantly changing rules based on short-term considerations. Nothing's stopping them from changing the rules back later." Ezra Klein doubles down, saying that what appears to be a delicate situation for Democrats is really a moral dilemma for Republicans, one of whom could prove that the Senate traditions of civility and comity really count for something by voting for cloture against a filibuster of health care legislation as a measure of respect to an ill or deceased Ted Kennedy: "Conversely, if not one Republican can be found who feels enough loyalty to Kennedy to make sure that his death doesn't kill the work of his life, then what are all those personal relationships and all that gentility really worth?"

The obvious question about the shoe being on the other foot - would Klein insist that a Democrat vote to pass a major GOP initiative out of respect for an absent Republican senator - is not worth the trouble of pursuing. Both Yglesias and Klein are unapologetically committed to the position that justice is the interest of the stronger. The only criterion for determining whether the game is being played fairly is whether the right side is winning. Changing the rules as often and flagrantly as necessary in order to advance its prospects is just one more egg that needs to be broken to give the country the omelets it needs.

What's interesting is that at the same time they are making Sophists' arguments for achieving political goals by any means necessary, Yglesias and Klein are lamenting the way narrow, parochial concerns prevent the pursuit of the public interest - as they, broadly and selectively, define it. Yglesias is increasingly baffled by the "cynicism and immorality displayed in big-time politics." Klein, similarly, cannot understand why he is the lone Diogenes in Washington who doesn't worry whether it's "uncouth" to contend that votes against cap-and-trade and Obamacare are "literally consigning thousands of people to death."

When the life-and-death issues are not the ones Yglesias and Klein want addressed, however, the standards of civilized discourse are suddenly retrievable and relevant, even crucial. I think it's a safe bet that neither admires the bold commitment to principle of the protesters in front of abortion clinics who scream "Baby killer" at the cars entering the parking lot, and would not sit still for a long explanation of how American law since 1973 has consigned literally millions of babies to death. Nor would either be receptive to arguments that the consequences of a suitcase nuclear bomb being detonated in Times Square or Lafayette Park are so grave that the imperative to take the actions, overseas and at home, to find and thwart terrorists will necessarily take precedence over international law and civil liberties. To talk about consigning thousands of people to death in that context would be uncouth, manipulative, hysterical and jingoist.

Yglesias and Klein are both very young guys who've become blogosphere stars, so they may not have outgrown Attention Deficit Disorder. Neither seems to notice when an argument in one post doesn't square with one they write the next day. When lamenting the craven indifference with which legislators consign literally billions of people to death by not being Dennis Kucinich, both adopt the position that the graveyards are filled with indispensable men. They shake their heads at the vain, calculating politicians who would gladly see every last organism on the planet shrivel and die if it meant they wouldn't have to cast a vote that displeased a local interest or donor, reducing their reelection prospects by a fraction.

Neither mentions, however, that Sen. Kennedy has had 16 months to solve the problem of his succession without changing Massachusetts law. He could have resigned at any point after his brain tumor was diagnosed, leaving plenty of time for a special election to designate a senator who would vote for health care reform. If yielding office for the sake of a higher principle is noble, this particular hero could have extricated his party from their current dilemma at any point. Instead, Kennedy's long Senate career is destined to be bookended by two shabby, transparent maneuvers. He was elected to the Senate seat vacated by his brother John, but only after a compliant place-holder agreed to keep it occupied until Ted turned 30 in 1962. Now, again, the protocols of even-handedness are to be sacrificed for the greater good, and the greater good is to be defined to give maximum scope for Sen. Kennedy to define and pursue his ambitions.

Categories > Elections

Discussions - 30 Comments

I can't get too mad about this, not because it isn't cynical or because Klein would not whine if the shoe were on the other foot, but because the wheel turns. The Republicans won't forget (even as liberals will forget and write poems to their own fair-mindedness)and somewhere down the line there will be payback in some way we do not foresee. Today it is Howie Carr complaining about the unfairness of it all. Someday it will be Katie Couric and Yglesias.

The crowning achievement of kennedy's life would be if his own bloated ego would keep him lingering and unable to vote so that his hideous "health"care "reform" can be brought to glorious steaming defeat by stalwart republicans, and then he assumes room temperature and gets out of our lives forever.

Now that would be an achievement by this evil, vile, cowardly piece of crap that I could appreciate.


If I was Ted Kennedy, which thankfully I am not, I would be more worried about the closing of my life here on earth and what I have done to other people (i.e. Mary Jo - maybe at least saying I am sorry and acknowledging that I did wrong) than about what is going on in D.C.

It's not as bad as what they did in New Jersey a couple of years ago when Lautenberg was a last minute replacement for Torticelli. At least Kennedy wants the law to be changed by the legislature.

I believe the GOP kept a dead guy on the ballot once for the name recognition and the legistics of getting a new candidate on short notice, I think his wife served the term. Mabye Ted can be brought to the senate floor on life support and cast the descisive vote for social medicine while kept alive by elaborate, expensive private medical devices; government loves irony.

Yglesias and Klein are just playing a game that many Democrats have for too long: by any means necessary. Wilson used an authoritarian approach, Roosevelt tried to pack the SC, Kennedy wants to change the rules.

Their comments are more or less an admission that they think Democrats should be allowed to play under one set of rules and Republicans another set, one that just happens to be much harder to play by. As Richard Adams reminds us in the comments, NJ was another example of this. Elections in Washington and more recently Minnesota demonstrated that some Democrats are willing to accept more votes than there are registered voters to get their way. Even the accusations of 2000 had more to do with a combination of attempts to find votes and the assumption that the GOP played the same game that Democrats have in the past than it did with any real suspicions that the Bush campaign somehow engineered a supergenius plot to steal the election in one state by a few hundred votes.

The ends justify the means with this crowd. As Buckley demonstrated, sometimes that works (his example of shoving a little old lady to save her from an oncoming bus) but the means Yglesias and Klein are pushing are the assumption that their opponents should have to play the game of politics in a much more noble and gentle way than the way they play it.

The GOP should ignore their unsoliticed, hypocritical, and sanctimonious advice, and play fair but hard.

All good Christians should pray hard for Kennedy's speedy demise!


It was the Democrats that had a dead man elected to the Senate, but in their defense, it was too late to change the ballots.

In 2000, Mel Carnahan (D) was the Governor of Missouri and running for the Senate vs John Ashcroft. He and his son died in a plane crash 3 weeks before the election. After he won the election, Gov. Roger Wilson apppointed his wife, Jean Carnahan to the senate seat. She lost the seat to Jim Talent (R) in a special election in 2002.


..can't blame Kennedy for not resigning before now. Why risk giving up access to his government-paid health care benefits while he's getting treated for cancer??

All good Christians should pray hard for Kennedy's speedy demise!

Well, as the president says, we're "God's partners in matters of life and death." I take that to mean that if God needs some help in taking Ted (or anyone else, for that matter), we (is that the royal we?) can step in and speed the process.

All good Christians should pray hard for Kennedy's speedy demise!

So should all good people, even atheists. The world will be a better place once that disgusting pig shuffles off it.

All anyone needs to know about lefty hypocrisy can be summed up in the fact that they glorify a piece of offal like Teddy.

Yglesias and Klein are both very young guys who’ve become blogosphere stars

What, if anything, qualifies Klein to be taken seriously as a talking head? He trots out the same rote lefty talking points as our own wretched Scanlon, the same as every troll on the net. Heck, why not give Craig a slot in the Wapo?

Bill Voegeli, kudos on this post. Ted Kennedy has been morally "ill" throughout his destructive career. This attempted mini-coup is indeed a fitting way for that bullying, virulently statist, and personally corrupt career to end. As for Yglesias and other twits, it's their reactions to stories like this that reveal their lack of real intelligence and/or integrity.

13: John M., good point. Scanlon is indeed "wretched." And I'd also say he qualifies as a troll.

Sorry about that. The story fascinated me when I heard about it but I could not find anything about it when I tried to confirm before posting.

To Moser: Obama's use of religious thought is, indeed, creepy. I think he's invoked more Jesus-talk since he's been President than Bush did during the past eight years.

Yes, John Moser, I'm glad you caught my sarcasm, and that you're with me that the President should take a more secular approach in his public pronouncements, since the religious ones can all too easily be appropriated and twisted to support completely opposite policy positions. (Not to mention that an omnipotent God wouldn't ever need help in taking anyone!) I'd love to hear you expound on Sarah Palin's public statements about what is and isn't "God's will"!

I think to put this "God's will" question to rest, it would be best to consider Lincoln, who "plainly confess[ed] to be controlled by events."

Providence guides the man, the moral order shapes him, and not vice versa. I'm pretty sure Palin doesn't agree.

When putting a question "to rest", it would probably be best to avoiding quoting authoritative historical figures as if their word was somehow definitive.

But I'm glad you've got it all figured out, T-Hag. You fit right in here at NLT (not to mention AU), for the most part.

Matt: Right, because you've never done that either? I'm open to what you have to say -- perhaps I should not have said I'd "put it to rest," but with the ubiquitous antagonizing coming from Scanlon, it can get to the nerves a little bit. At any rate, what are your thoughts on it? I'm actually interested to hear (though I like the AU community, I do occasionally leave its golden gates)

Right, because you've never done that either?

No, I definitely have! I was a religious Christian for years. And while I started shedding such beliefs early on in life, it was not until I got to AU that I truly relieved myself of that ideological tyranny. So we have a mutual affinity.

My thoughts on the matter don't allow me to make providential claims of guidance. In my experience, power (earthly power, that is) is about all I've ever seen shape anyone (even if it operated under the guise of providential power). But your experience could be different (with religion, Christianity, and what shapes man). My real concern with your post was the reliance on old words - as if there was a finality in them simply because they were spoken by someone you revere. As someone who holds literary and critical theory in high regard, I have to admit that I'm inclined toward some serious hero-worship. Ashbrookers and their kin also tend to get caught up in the same trope. We're both young enough to try and avoid falling into that trap.

Matt: This is really interesting to me, because I basically went through the same process as you, except my experience is inverted. Your paragraph in my words would read "I was an Atheist for years. And while I started shedding such beliefs early on in life, it was not until I got to AU that I truly relieved myself of that ideological tyranny."

Strange how that works out. But even though I have my particular beliefs, I'm not against working out some of the more, or even outright, nihilistic arguments. I agree with the 'hero-worship' statement, though I don't always think it is a bad thing. But I'd add that contending with your 'heroes' is perhaps one of the most impt things to do, as far as free thought goes. You'll be happy to know I'm reading lots of late German folks this semester - ha!

I've been thinking about it, and what I am wondering is does the source of that power matter? I guess a better way to put it is does it boil down to 'the will of the stronger' for you? I know those might be difficult to answer in a forum, but...I've just been thinking about it, because even our hallowed democracy can be culpable -- Jaffa calls Antonin Scalia a nihilist for his majoritarianism; I don't know what to make of that, but I see what he means.

T-Hag: "ubiquitous antagonizing"?? Please. While my first post here could be called (mildly) antagonistic, it was also merely a reminder of the rabid right wing, which has become nearly (but not quite) indistinguishable from the self-styled respectable, dignified Right of Ashbrook/NLT (again, see the Glenn Beck issue, for a good start).

And I don't see how the Lincoln quote puts anything to rest. "Events" don't equal providence. And Palin's words on God's will and gas pipelines speak for themselves.

But I probably shouldn't bother responding to you, what with the uncivil way you first introduced yourself to me on this forum.

Scanlon: Well, we'll have to agree to disagree with that one, but if you'd read my post you'd see that I am in line with you re: Mrs. Palin. What, in your opinion, is providence?

I'd also agree that the right needs to find some sense of restraint: I don't want them turning into some weird progeny of the 1960s, and I certainly don't stand for everything that has gone on in the past couple weeks. As soon as the 2nd amendment becomes 'I have a gun and you don't so I win,' I'll not be backing those who stand for it so much.

The fallback to Glenn Beck I've always thought was an odd one, as it doesn't even come close to defining Ashbrook or NLT, but whatever, you can have your opinion. There have been much worse speakers at other places, and I don't know all the details of that event (or Beck himself).

While you don't always conduct yourself with tact and decorum, I don't much care. Perhaps I was feeling particularly fiesty when I wrote that post about your antagonizing, but at any rate there are plenty of people on the left I'd rather speak with.

All good Christians should pray hard for Kennedy's speedy demise!

Ted Kennedy claimed to be a practicing Catholic yet he voted and supported for abortion for most of his Senatorial Life. I guess we can be assured that Ted Kennedy the so-called "practicing" Catholic may have just considered Mary Jo (and probably her baby) were both late-term abortions...

Brutus: "I believe the GOP kept a dead guy on the ballot once for the name recognition and the legistics of getting a new candidate on short notice, I think his wife served the term."

No, that would be Dem's who kept a deceased canidate from Missouri, Carnahan on the ballot for senate, and his wife took the term instead. Notice that the republican (John Ashcroft) who could have challenged it in court didn't, only to be shit on in the press for his service as Attorney General.

I still remember how the press treated this man as compared to Arafat who died at about the same time. Ashcroft, GOOD riddence to a nazi wanna be, a dispicable man who should slink home in shame. For Arafat, a true 'statesman',a man of the 'people', a leader who's gonna be missed badly. This for a guy who led his people to misery and poverty for decades on end, while he stashed millions of dollars in charity to off-shore bank accounts for himself.

Cowgirl, in comment 28, helped to confirm my sarcastic hint at how the radical ("religious") right, including some of this blog's readers (and possibly writers) approach(ed) the Kennedy situation:

"All good Christians should pray hard for Kennedy's speedy demise!"

Well, the prayers of you real Americans have come true!!

Maybe they didn't want him to suffer? Er...

So besides cowgirl's enlightened mantra, what do you make of others, ie, Bill Voegeli?

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