Chris Matthews is wrong. Kennedy's legacy will advance again with a mobilization for the public option on the healthcare bill in September, not whispered hints of a Democratic surrender with a progressive president and large majorities in Congress.
Ted Kennedy often said that his greatest mistake was when President Richard Nixon offered a sweeping healthcare reform that was bolder than any president had ever offered, including Democratic presidents, and Kennedy turned down the offer. Kennedy knew that his greatest mistake was not reaching for too much when the opportunity was offered, but for accepting too little when the moment that Nixon offered was at hand.
Kennedy said that sometimes a great party must sail against the wind. Kennedy was a leader in the Senate in breaking filibusters against civil rights bills, calling the legacy of his brother to the service of the high cause of equal justice under law.
Kennedy was a brilliant opponent of the obstructionists who opposed Medicare in their day, who offered the false argument then, as some do now, that Medicare was some evil government takeover of healthcare.
Kennedy was an articulate opponent of going to war in Iraq when most politicians of both parties rallied in favor of the war, when most pundits joined the rush to unwise war and when opposing the war was hard, not easy, and right, even if difficult.
Kennedy was a believer in the first principles of progressivism, indeed liberalism, who did not trim his sails to the winds of the moment, and who knew there was no safety in hiding, when high principle required courageous action.
Kennedy was a rich man who fought for the poor, even when fighting for the poor was unpopular during the Gilded Age of our times.
Kennedy was a man who lived well, but fought for the hungry, even when the hungry were not to prevail on the floor of the Congress, or seen on the television news, which was always otherwise engaged, while Kennedy was always passionately committed.
Kennedy was a believer in the politics of principle in an age of political cowardice, when there are far too many profiles, and much too little courage.
It is true that Kennedy knew when, and how, and where, to compromise. It is false to use his name in the service of compromise that is too easy, too safe, too weak, and as always too tied to special interest money that has long been the nemesis of causes that endure, and dreams that never die, and values that survive the political winds of the moment.
It is sad, but true, and revealing, that while we celebrate the 40th anniversary of President Kennedy's dream of man on the moon coming true, now, we cannot even return to the moon again, and get it right, in reasonable time.
It is sad, but true, and revealing, that the obstructionism against Medicare in Kennedy's younger days has returned again, with the same politics of fear, and the same politics of lies, and the same politics of obstructionism that opposed the dreams for civil rights, equal justice and Medicare that came true with Kennedy's great help.
It is sad, but true, and revealing, that men with guns go to public meetings, while angry voices try to call the uncommitted to a politics of hate and rage and anger and falsehood that nobler men and women believed had been relegated to the past in this land we love.
Yes, Kennedy knew when to compromise, and this should be praised to the skies and commended, when possible, in our times.
But Kennedy also knew that some causes are worth living for, and fighting for, and going to the nation for, in real battles for great change without the soothing voice of those pundits who know no cause, or the timid voices of politicians who put their whispered words of surrender ahead of the profiles in courage that hard times demand from true leaders.
As the great battle advances between those, like Kennedy, who believed that healthcare was the cause of a lifetime versus those who promote obstruction or counsel surrender, as many did during the fights for Medicare and Social Security and civil rights, make no mistake: