Ed Driscoll

The Last Liberal

Or at the least, Ted Kennedy was the last liberal who didn’t reflexively recoil when being called that, Orrin Judd writes, at the New Ledger:

Though foreign policy was seldom his main concern, he was as much responsible as anyone for Congress cutting off funds to our South Vietnamese allies and to the Contras, for anti-apartheid legislation and help for Soviets Jews and dissidents, and he led opposition to both wars against Saddam Hussein. Indeed, his influence is so pervasive and so wide-ranging that it is difficult to make a broad generalization about his legacy. But what does seem fair to say is that he has for five decades been the avatar of modern liberalism.

Now, if you want to get a feel for what it was like to argue about angels and pinheads in medieval times, you could always just try start an argument about what the term liberalism means. Libertarians and paleocons will fight you for the right to it, in its original incarnation as a belief in human freedom. And plenty will tell you it’s an epithet, standing for naught but statism and economic redistribution. But Ted Kennedy claimed the term for himself, always wore it proudly, and defended it even after most Democrats had tried escaping it. So perhaps we can say that, to a remarkable degree, modern liberalism was whatever Ted Kennedy said it was and however he stood on the issues. He certainly leaves no fellow politician behind who Americans would both recognize and describe as a liberal. The last Democratic nominee who would have been comfortable describing himself as a liberal was probably George McGovern and most of the remaining liberals in Congress are intentionally kept out of the limelight. Nancy Pelosi is probably the closest thing he has to an heir, but House Speakers are fairly anonymous. No, Teddy was it. All that “last liberal lion” is more true than not.

So when we look at his public record we can learn wider lessons about modern liberalism. What that record teaches us is that there are pronounced inconsistencies to liberalism such that it can barely be considered a political philosophy, inconsistencies so drastic that we can see why it failed to stand the test of time.

Read the whole thing.