According to Fox News, the thing that made Ted Kennedy special was that he was always willing to make deals with Republicans, and that he'd sell those deals to his fellow progressives.
Kennedy, they say, was always in pursuit of a half-a-loaf. And the best example? His support for President Bush's medicare prescription drug benefit.
But there's a problem with Fox's claim: it's not true. Although Kennedy did reach a deal with Bush on prescription drugs, Bush screwed Kennedy and reneged on the deal at the last second, leaving Kennedy fuming.
Far from supporting Bush's Medicare prescription drug plan, Kennedy was one of its most outspoken critics. And it's all on video tape.
In mid-2003, before the Bush Administration stabbed him in the back, Kennedy did support reaching a deal on prescription drug coverage, making the case for compromise by hearkening back to an opportunity to achieve universal health care coverage during Nixon's presidency.
Health care has been a Kennedy passion for nearly four decades, and he has seen opportunities come and go. He recalls that when President Richard Nixon offered a universal health care plan in the early 1970s, Democrats opposed it, figuring they could get a better bill later. It was a mistake, he says. "In retrospect, I'd grab that," he said of the Nixon plan. Democrats, he argues, should pass a compromise Medicare bill now and then push to fill the plan's gaps. "If Democrats have any oomph," he says, "they're going to be fighting to strengthen this program."
(Source: E.J. Dionne, Ted and Hillary's Health Care Split, in Washington Post, June 24, 2003, via Nexis)
Within months of Kennedy's words in support of compromise, the Bush administration had screwed him over, reneging on their deal with him. Although he started out in favor of compromise, he ended up as the leader of the opposition to the deal. 44 Senators, most of them Democrats, voted against the legislation. Kennedy even tried -- in vain -- to stop the bill from coming to a vote by opposing the cloture motion.
In late 2004, a year and a half after trying to reach a deal with Bush, Kennedy softened his tone on the Nixon deal, saying "I'll have to go back and look at whether we should have jumped on that. Did we make a mistake waiting?"
So in 2003, while selling a deal on prescription drugs that went south, Kennedy did say "in retrospect, I'd grab that." In 2004, after Bush betrayed him on the deal, Kennedy was not quite as certain.
According to commentators like Steven Pearlstein, this episode shows that Kennedy's "greatest regret" was not getting a deal done with Richard Nixon. According to Pearlstein, the lesson to be learned here is that Democrats must abandon key legislative goals to win Republican support.
But that's the wrong lesson. If there's a lesson here, it's that you can count on Republicans to lie. They'll lie going in, and they'll lie going out. You cannot trust them worth a damn, and anyone who does is a shill -- or worse, a fool.
(For more on this topic, see "What Teddy would do", published Sunday.)