BY MY LIGHTS, Ted Kennedy was wrong about most of the great issues of our time.
Abroad, he failed to take seriously the stakes in the Cold War. "Today, with the exception of East Germany, Russia has no more satellites," he wrote in 1968, the year Soviet tanks invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring. He hailed Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet dictator, as "a warm individual . . . completely committed to peace." He fought to cut off aid to South Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975 -- aid that might have prevented a horrific communist bloodbath.
In recent years he was willing to consign millions to the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, opposing not only the 2003 liberation of Iraq but even the 1991 campaign to roll back the occupation of Kuwait.
In domestic policy, too, Kennedy supported much that I thought misguided, especially the burgeoning of the welfare state, the reckless expansion of entitlements, and the vast growth in federal power. Once I asked him if there was any legislation he regretted having supported. Yes, he said -- he no longer favored some of the deregulation he had voted for.
"The natural progress of things," said Thomas Jefferson, "is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground." Over the course of -- and in great measure thanks to -- Kennedy's 46 years as a US senator, the yardage gained by the government was immense.
Yet I have always admired the power and sincerity with which Kennedy pressed his views. "Give him this: He knows what he believes in and doesn't hide it," I once wrote in a column. "Kennedy rarely frets about whether his stand on an issue is politically popular."
Born into riches and influence, Kennedy could have lived a life of ease, indulging his appetites and paying scant attention to those far less fortunate. He chose a different life, and became a prodigious advocate for the deprived, the disabled, and the dispossessed. I didn't always like his answers, but I honor him for caring so greatly about the questions.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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