Lion of the Senate

by Don Boudreaux on August 26, 2009

in Politics

Here’s a letter that I just sent to the Boston Globe:

You report that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick supports “changing state law to allow him to appoint an interim successor to Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat while a special election is held” (“Gov. would OK law change for Kennedy successor,” August 26).  You report also that only last week a dying Sen. Kennedy requested this rule change.

But you fail to mention that the very rule that Sen. Kennedy last week pleaded be scuttled is a rule that he himself lobbied for in 2004.  As your own Jeff Jacoby wrote last week, “Kennedy wants the Legislature to upend the succession law it passed in 2004, when – at his urging – it stripped away the governor’s longstanding power to temporarily fill a Senate vacancy.  Back then, John Kerry was a presidential candidate and Republican Mitt Romney was governor; Kennedy lobbied state Democrats to change the law so that Romney couldn’t name Kerry’s successor.”

To the very end, Mr. Kennedy displayed his lack of principles.  And your paper continues to display its reporting biases.

Donald J. Boudreaux

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Justin P August 26, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Principles and the Modern Democratic Party are polar opposites. They will use Kennedy’s death to try to steamroll Obamacare through the Senate and pass it via the Budget Reconciliation process. That doesn’t show principles at all.

I’m just waiting for tomorrow’s Krugman column on Kennedy and Obamacare, how it’s imperative that we pass the public option because “Teddy would have wanted it.”

Methinks August 26, 2009 at 8:18 pm

I didn’t realize legislation was meant to be a monument to false Gods in the United States. Cato just sent me two copies of the constitution and I can’t find that anywhere.

Politicians have sunk to a new low.

Justin P August 26, 2009 at 8:29 pm

I put on my Nostradamus hat when talking about Krugman but you know he will write something to that effect.
You should see the traffic on twitter, #kennedy. ‘Petition Congress: Pass the Kennedy Bill (and nothing less).”

Remember when referring to Teddy from now on always use caps lock….TEDDY and HIM…he has been deifed by the left, a martyr for the cause of Obamacare.

Methinks August 26, 2009 at 9:56 pm

Wow, Justin. Just wow.

I’m hoping these are the same obama-can-do-no-wrong leftists who wanted it passed no matter what was in the legislation before he died.

It’s heartening that Intrade is unimpressed. The contract for healthcare bill passage by December ’09 is down 8.4 points today.

Anonymous August 26, 2009 at 10:18 pm

I never got the concern over budget reconciliation – either now or during the Bush administration.

I mean – I’d personally like a bill that could bring more people to support it than just the 51 most liberal Democrats in the Senate. I like the idea of not passing it with budget reconciliation.

But why does everybody lose their shirt over it – now or back a couple years ago? Before the Civil Rights Act filibusters this was standard operating proceedure. It didn’t need to go through the reconciliation process because everything was run like that.

Methinks August 26, 2009 at 11:23 pm

The way I understand it…

The health care proposals currently on the table are unpopular and becoming less popular by the day. Jamming it through with a simple majority will make the Democrats seem like tyrants. Plus, any problems with the legislation (and you know there will be problems) will be on the shoulders of Democrats alone. That’s quite a gift to the Republicans in future elections.

Reconciliation is only meant for the budget, since congress must always pass a budget. The Byrd Rule part of reconciliation provides a point of order in the Senate against extraneous matter in reconciliation bills. Determining what is extraneous will result in a quagmire as the bill is examined line by line, effectively shutting down the Senate for months. The resulting legislation will likely look like Swiss cheese and further polarize everyone.

All that trouble and it’s unclear if the House can even pass anything at all.

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 9:41 am

I agree it will make them “seem” like tyrants – but isn’t that sad that a majority vote seems tyrannical? Before the Civil Rights Act filibusters, this wasn’t considered “jamming it through”. It’s how virtually everything was passed.

And I don’t want to gang up on Republicans because like I said – I’m fine with reconciliation… but it is a little odd that it’s characterized by “jamming it through” by the people that used reconciliation to pass the tax cuts. Majority rule didn’t seem tyrannical to them back then, and rightly so.

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Dan, the tax RATE cuts (taxes were never cut – they were just shifted) were not permanent exactly because they couldn’t get more votes. This thing is meant to be permanent. I think one thing you and I agree on is that changes in health care should be incremental and tested before made permanent. That ain’t what they’re going for.

Plus, none of the proposals solve any of the problems in the health insurance market – lack of portability, lack of national market and uneven tax treatment. Portability would pretty much solve the pre-existing condition issue. The insurance companies don’t want it because the legislation prohibits them from raising premiums as the insured age. But, if you move to a different state, they can reprice your insurance even if they can’t turn you down.

but isn’t that sad that a majority vote seems tyrannical?

No, it’s not sad. 51% of the population subjugating 49% to its will is what’s sad. When a majority can use a minority for its purposes we approach something resembling slavery. Worse, a minority of the actual population supports this bill (and all the proposals are just versions of each other). That means that for the Democrats to get enough votes to pass this without the Republicans, some Democrats will have to subjugate the interests of their constituents to the extreme left wing of their party by voting against their wishes. That’s one reason the Town Halls are so impassioned. People don’t feel their politicians listen to them or represent them and they’re right – they aren’t. That’s what’s sad.

None of Washington’s theatre around the various health care bills has anything at all to do with what the population wants or even with changing health care for the better and everything to do with party politics and growth of government. This legislation is important to Obama’s political career (I guess) and for reasons that we can only guess, he doesn’t want to shrug off the most radical left wingers in his party. However, even among the people who voted for Obama, most love their children more than they care about his political career. He needs a more modest reform and he needs to drop anything that could lead to nationalization.

The worst thing for a president is to have his own party control the legislative branch.

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 11:47 am

I believe I read that some of the key elements of ObamaCare cannot be passed via reconciliation, such as the Public Option.

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 1:12 pm

I despise politics, so I make sure I’m no expert….but my understanding is that they CAN pass anything they want with a simple majority. The problem is that it will be stripped out as a non-budget item on reconciliation.

Anonymous August 26, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Teddy Kennedy lived as what he was, rich spoiled brat kid that had everything handed to him, even his Senate seat.

I look in my dictionary and there is his picture illustrating the word Elitist. The definition is: 1. Pretentious scum, corrupt, cowardly, and faux intellectual, generally found practicing the art of stealing from Paul to give to Peter.

Few people can illustrate what is wrong with the American political system as well as Teddy Kennedy and now the baton is passed to Babababarack Obamaaaaa!

Anonymous August 26, 2009 at 10:15 pm

I don’t know about this line of attack. All the coverage of it that I’ve seen has been pretty explicit that he said he wanted it so the Dems could pass health reform. Granted, they didn’t mention the 2004 position, but I never picked up on any pretension of a higher purpose than keeping a filibuster proof majority.

Don’t get me wrong – I agree with Don’s critique 100%. But even having failed to report the 2004 issue at first, the coverage of this rule change from the beginning was always clear it was about bare knuckle politics.

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 11:51 am

Are you referring to the Mainstream Media reports, which generally have nothing to say about the unprincipled flip-flop, or the critiques of those reports which have highlighted the hypocrisy?

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 12:46 pm

I suppose you’d call it mainstream media. I’m not sure I’ve heard a report about the switch that hasn’t said “he wanted to do this to make sure they had the votes for health care reform and didn’t have to wait until January for a new Democratic Senator”. Granted, I didn’t hear much about his 2004 position until more recently – and I agree completely with Don on that. But nobody’s sugarcoated why he wants the change either.

Greg_Ransom August 26, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Hayek has a great essay titled “Principles or Expediency?”

which explains why being a leftist like Kennedy means never having to follow the traditional rules of property, morality, and honesty — i.e. why the demands of momentary pragmatism and expedience always trump traditional restraints on governmental behavior, or upon individuals who vindicate their virtue and justify their lives in terms of their actions for the “common good” and the state, and _not_ in terms of their ability to abide by the traditional rules of morality.

louh August 27, 2009 at 12:29 am

Kantian realism

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 3:17 am

The ends justify the means. Not as Machiavelli meant it–as an observation that in politics, success brings popularity–but as a fundamental guiding moral principle.

But moral principles are universal guides to action. They are not conditioned by time or arbitrary ends. The means are as the ends.

louh August 26, 2009 at 11:01 pm

Anyone would be an improvement over Sen. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy would have been better served if he had asked for Papal assistance in commuting his sentence in Hell.

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 10:15 am


Long long experience has taught me to never ever say, “it can’t be worse”, because there is a Murphy and his law says that “it always can get worse, if given the opportunity.” Scum though Teddy Kennedy was, we have to accept the reality that there are even bigger scum to be tapped for political position.

JohnK August 27, 2009 at 12:10 pm

That’s why ‘throw the bums out’ never works. Because all that happens is one group of corrupt people is replaced with another group of corrupt people. Some say power corrupts, I say power attracts the corrupt. I don’t think anyone seeks out a position of power without the intention of abusing it.

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 12:19 am

Teddy was a politricker of the highest order. Good riddance.

Rudy August 27, 2009 at 12:58 am

I knew Teddy was close to death when he sent a letter to change the existing law for the state of Mass.. Pretty sickening, Teddy was even political on his death-bed. What a life.

piefarmer August 27, 2009 at 1:37 am

I disagree. If you accept that Sen. Kennedy’s principles were designed to favor himself and his party above all else, then he was totally consistent with these principles.

Babinich August 27, 2009 at 2:08 am

“To the very end, Mr. Kennedy displayed his lack of principles. And your paper continues to display its reporting biases.”


Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 2:31 am

Teddy was evidently a fan of Milton’s idea that it would be:

“Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”

Given what Teddy did to Mary Jo K. one must hope that deals with the Devil are like deals with cowardly, snivelling humans like Teddy: non-binding. Hmmm, serving in Hell vs. serving in Heaven, suppose that is the REAL choice? Dear God, I almost feel SORRY for Teddy; but then I think of Mary Jo and I feel nothing but nausiated that Teddy ever even existed, to say nothing of the sickening disgust about his being lionized as the “Lion of the Senate”. Shouldn’t it be the “Liar of the Senate”? (I’ll bet Mary Jo wouldn’t have a problem with replacing Lion with Liar or maybe Lout.)

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 2:48 am

Upon learning of Kennedy’s passing this morning, my wife and I wondered whether any newscast would say, “…and in a related story, Mary Jo Kopechne has been dead for over 41 years.” I don’t think so, yes I am sure it was mentioned, but only as an unfortunate incident… for Teddy’s political career.

I am sure that Teddy is serving in hell (or perhaps being served as a meal) at this moment.

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 3:18 am

“Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”

The reasoning of any statist, socialist or otherwise.

Lizzaroni August 28, 2009 at 3:17 am

Kennedy’s push for the 2004 legislation was a short-term solution to a Democratic “emergency” that they will likely pay for in the long-run. Being dominated by Keynesians, it does not shock me that people who abide by the phrase “In the long-run we are all dead” would lack such foresight.

Dave August 28, 2009 at 2:39 pm

I would submit that in advocating the changing of the rules, Mr. Kennedy was remaining true to his principles: the principles that an elite few know best and are not subject to the same rules and limitations as others, and that because these elites know best and have only the best of intentions, whatever they can do to stack the deck in their favor is acceptable.

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Sure – I’m not advocating the bill as it stands. As you say, as far apart as we are on it, there’s a lot we both find problematic about it. I just don’t understand the hysteria over reconciliation, nor, admittedly, do I particularly like the idea of doing it through reconciliation.

And of course we can have the “tyranny of the majority”. But you can have the tyranny of the minority too. As libertarians and even conservatives repeatedly (and correctly) point out, not accepting this change isn’t “doing nothing”. It’s a statement that the correct policy position is not to change anything. That’s a proactive policy in it’s own right. Now, without reconciliation a 41% minority could dictate that status quo, but proactive policy position to a 59% majority. That’s no good either.

Tyranny of the majority (or minority) is a concern when that majority violates the limits of government or violates state or individual rights. I’m sure many would make the case that that’s what’s happening now. Whether you agree or disagree with that, the point is the concept of “tyranny of the majority” is NOT a blanket case against a simple majority vote. The concept of “tyranny of the majority” is a case against very specific simple majority votes that tyrannize over the minority. In other words, I don’t accept the very real problem of “tyranny of the majority” as a valid argument against all simple majority rulings.

RE: “something resembling slavery”

No, not at all in fact. I’d refer you to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, or any of a variety of other accounts about what slavery was like.

JohnK August 27, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I have often thought that government mandated health care was “something resembling slavery” in that the law entitles one to the services of another without any discussion of compensation. Yes the person giving those services is not property, but they must give those services without compensation under threat of government force.

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Dan, I know about slavery. In the Soviet Union, we were all slaves of the state. Using one person for the purposes of another against their will is slavery.

I just don’t understand the hysteria over reconciliation

I told you. It would shut down the Senate and shred the bill. If you find that nothing to get hysterical over, fine. But politicians find it something to avoid. Personally, I don’t think shutting down the Senate is a big loss.

As libertarians and even conservatives repeatedly (and correctly) point out, not accepting this change isn’t “doing nothing”. It’s a statement that the correct policy position is not to change anything.

No. It’s a statement that correct policy position to not allow a CENTRAL AUTHORITY to impose a single “change” on the entire population. Each individual can and should make their own changes as they see fit. Dis-empowering a central authority and allowing people the freedom to adjust their own lives frees them from the will of both the minority and the majority but does not impede them from helping each other out – as they did after Chicago burned, Katrina and 9/11, and as they do every single day in this country.

You’ve also (unsurprisingly) fallen victim to the left’s mantra that a rejection of THIS “reform” legislation is a rejection of all reform. That’s not true. Nobody supports the status quo, but the population has made it clear it prefers the status quo to THIS legislation. Scrap it and start again is all that needs to be done.

Tyranny of the majority (or minority) is a concern when that majority violates the limits of government or violates state or individual rights. I’m sure many would make the case that that’s what’s happening now.

Read my post more carefully. I’m not making that argument at all. The majority of the population doesn’t want this bill to pass at all. The minority leftist fringe of the party is trying to control all of the elected Democrats. Unfortunately for Obama, he belongs to that left wing fringe.

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 3:18 pm

“You’ve also (unsurprisingly) fallen victim to the left’s mantra that a rejection of THIS “reform” legislation is a rejection of all reform.”

No, actually that’s a stupid mantra. How do you suppose I’m falling for that? I’m not saying there are only two options out there, if that’s what you think. I’m just saying that one option is to do nothing at all. And that is an “option” as much as the Democratic plan or the GOP plan. And THAT’S not to say that there’s only one Democratic plan, one GOP plan, and the status quo option. Don’t now accuse me of excluding third party perspectives. I’m not trying to be exhaustive here, nor was I trying to be exhaustive above – I’m just trying to give the status quo it’s due.

RE: “The majority of the population doesn’t want this bill to pass at all.”

OK… but we have a representative democracy and we have apportionment by states as well as by population precisely because of concerns about a tyranny of the majority. It’s not a perfect system, but neither is the fact that this reform wouldn’t pass in a referendum a damning mark against it.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the polling approach – ie, the “ideal” of passing everything through a referendum. It’s just kind of odd that you’re referencing what the “majority of the population” thinks and the “tyranny of the majority” at the same time. Ask yourself – HOW is the Senate potentially passing this despite what the majority thinks? It’s passing it precisely using the mechanisms that were put in place by the founders to guard against tyranny of the majority.

None of this makes the particular bill a good or bad bill. I’m not trying to make some teleological statement that if it passes it must be good. I’m just trying to point out the futility of making a “tyranny of the majority (minority)” argument, because there’s a mirror image “tyranny of the minority (majority)” counter-argument that can be shot right back by the same logic. All I’m saying is that the basic logic of giving any creedance to an opinion poll is the same as the basic logic of giving creedance to a simple majority vote in the Congress (forgetting the budgetary facets of reconciliation for the time being).

JohnK August 27, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Is it just me, or do liberals tend to squeak “tyranny of the majority! oppressors! haters!” when they lose, and “nya nya we won! looooooser! democracy in action!” when they win?

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Perception is everything in politics, Dan. If they are perceived as tyrannical, it’s as good as actually being tyrants. And the left wing of the party is pretty tyrannical – as is the extreme right wing of the GOP. To me, they are virtually indistinguishable.

Representatives are meant to represent their districts. If they don’t, they are not doing their job. None of that has anything to do with referendums.

Once again, Dan, you are defining “tyranny of the majority” as allowing each individual making decisions for themselves. At best, you’re defining “tyranny of the majority” as imposing the status quo. The majority is not in favour of the status quo, the majority is against the current legislation. If elected officials in congress ignore this fact, they are no longer representing their constituents.

HOW is the Senate potentially passing this despite what the majority thinks?

By abusing the rules. However, the point is, they don’t want to do it this way because the resulting legislation will not be what they want passed. The constitution prevents that simple majority sweep – and by simple majority I mean a simple majority in congress where the vulnerable representatives have a bat hovering near their knees.

This is precisely why I hate politics.

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 3:36 pm

BTW, the reps whose districts do support this particular legislation should absolutely vote for it. I’m appalled (but not surprised) by the extreme political pressure from the party on representatives from districts that do not find this legislation in their best interest.

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 3:54 pm

“This is precisely why I hate politics.”

At least we’re in agreement on that. I prefer when this blog sticks to the economics.

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Yes. The same goes for Bush-as-Hitler vs. Obama-as-Hitler. Also, when Kennedy dies we’re supposed to forget all his evil acts. When Reagan dies, he’s smeared in the liberal media.

The right wing exhibits this behaviour as well. I don’t mind either Bush or Obama as Hitler. If that’s the way people feel, why should we suppress the peaceful expression of their feelings? And consider verbal outbursts peaceful.

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 4:03 pm

It is like the bush-hitler/obama-hitler analogy. Everybody complains when they get a taste of their own medicine, and it’s all petty to begin with. But it’s also all fair game if that’s how they feel. I try to just ignore that stuff (as well as these complaints about reconciliation after having just used it a few years before… or the unfairness of Massachusetts law when it was just changed under Romney). It’s all stupid, petty politics.

But come on – Chappaquiddick is PLASTERED all over the news right now. I understand your disappointment that they don’t irrevocably damn the man for it, but it’s not like they’re not talking about it either. He’s getting a lot more negative press than Reagan did when he died – and rightfully so. Reagan didn’t let a girl drown (quite the opposite – he was a life guard in his youth). I saw him lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda – it was awe-inspiring to see the massive crowd that came, and stand in line for eight hours or so. I don’t know, the problems with Reagan didn’t change that for me – he’s still one of my favorites. I don’t think the many more problems with Kennedy change that either. I’d hate to think that my eulogy would be dominated by the mistakes I made.

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 4:29 pm

not really your choice as it’s not your blog.

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Killing someone by accidentally driving your car off the road while you’re drunk as a skunk is a bad mistake. Letting her lie there for ten hours and not trying to call for help right away suggests something much more sinister.

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 4:35 pm

I mean, do you really expect people to forget Madoff’s scam at his funeral just because everything he did wasn’t a scam?

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Which is why I stated it as a preference rather than a demand or expectation :-P

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 4:48 pm

I would hope nobody mentions it at all at Madoff’s funeral! That would be terrible. The newspapers oughta note it, but the funeral shouldn’t.

Now you’re confusing me into disagreeing with myself… didn’t I say it’s good and right that people are talking about Chappaquiddick? I thought I agreed they should be!

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 5:10 pm

“eulogy” made me think of funeral. I guess I don’t mean the funeral – just the obit.

I was only responding to “I’d hate to think that my eulogy would be dominated by the mistakes I made.”

BTW, I think to some degree, comparisons between Hitler and both Bush and Obama are justified. My problem is that for some reason anything negative about Obama is painted as racist. Even opposition to his health care reform has been painted as racist the MSM.

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 5:12 pm

yeah, but it’s pretty hard to separate politics and economics because politicians are bent on meddling.

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 5:30 pm

“My problem is that for some reason anything negative about Obama is painted as racist.”

It is sad, and wrong. Now you know how I feel when anything positive is painted as being un-American or communist! :)

Oh… except in THAT case it’s accurate I guess ;-)

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 5:53 pm

I have no idea what you mean by “anything positive”.

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 6:26 pm

“anything positive about Obama is painted as…”

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 7:33 pm


Just because people don’t agree with what you consider positive doesn’t mean that they disagree with every positive statement.

He ran a good.

Anonymous August 27, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Well of course not – same with your negative statement.

I had assumed when you said “anything negative about obama is considered racist” you didn’t literally mean “anything”. Likewise, I don’t literally mean “anything” here.

Methinks August 27, 2009 at 9:48 pm

thin will thish get?

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