Tom Foreman | Bio
Listen to one of the most impassioned speeches for health care reform: “We must not surrender to the relentless medical inflation that can bankrupt almost anyone and that may soon break the budgets of government at every level. Let us insist on real controls over what doctors and hospital can charge, and let us resolve that the state of a family’s health shall never depend on the size of a family’s wealth.”
The speaker goes on to say, as we’ve all heard by now, that the president, vice president, and members of Congress already have a generous public health care plan, and regular Americans deserve the same. It was a great speech for President Obama. Only he did not deliver it. It wasn’t even made this year. Those words were part of Ted Kennedy’s address to the Democratic Convention, in his failed presidential bid, almost 30 years ago.
And health care is not the only plank in his 1980 platform that is eerily familiar. If Barack Obama had been seated beside him in poli-sci class, the new president might have been accused of plagiarism.
In that speech Kennedy talked about taxing the rich to help the middle class and poor. He ripped the Republicans as heartless cronies of business. He defended government bailouts; cozied up to labor unions; promoted environmentally-friendly energy. He even hinted that the “wealthy” line began with folks who make more than $200,000 a year. Talk about déjà vu.
But with a big difference. Kennedy lost the nomination to incumbent President Jimmy Carter, who then was flattened by Ronald Reagan. Barack Obama, however, spun Kennedy’s ideas into a winning combination, taking the White House back for Democrats for only the second time…well, since Kennedy lost.
Like a message in a bottle set adrift decades ago, the Kennedy speech can be seen as just a curiosity. But it can also be a warning, about how even persistent ideas with powerful believers behind them, can spend many years at sea with no one able to quite bring them into the harbor and take them home.
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