Kennedy Calls on Left to Keep Faith

Times Staff Writer

Liberal patriarch Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts added his voice Wednesday to the postmortem among Democrats about November’s election, urging his party not to shrink from a debate with Republicans over values.

Kennedy also differed with those calling for Democrats to become more conservative. Instead, in a speech at a National Press Club luncheon, the senator insisted that “Democrats may be in the minority in Congress, but we speak for the majority of Americans.”

“Despite resistance, setbacks and periods of backlash over the years, our values have moved us closer to the ideal with which America began -- that all people are created equal,” Kennedy said. “And when Democrats say ‘all,’ we mean ‘all.’ ”


The party should not alter its basic positions because, he said, Democratic ideals “unite us as Americans instead of dividing us.”

“We cannot [become] Republican clones. If we do, we will lose again, and deserve to lose,” Kennedy said. “As I have said on other occasions, the last thing our country needs is two Republican parties.”

Exit polling of voters on election day led some analysts to spotlight President Bush’s conservative views on social issues, such as gay marriage and abortion, as perhaps the prime reason he defeated Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). But since then, many have taken issue with that interpretation, saying too much was made of responses to a vaguely worded question about values.

Kennedy, a key ally and advisor to Kerry’s campaign, said that in a close election, “defeat has a thousand causes, and it is too easy to blame it on particular issues or tactics or on the larger debate about values.”

Still, he did note that the Democrats could have done better during the campaign communicating their party’s principles.

“We were remiss in not talking more directly about them -- about the fundamental ideals that guide our progressive policies,” he said.


Kennedy rejected the notion that the election was an endorsement of Bush’s agenda to restructure Social Security, revamp the tax system and appoint more conservative jurists to the federal courts.

“Those proposals were barely mentioned -- or voted on -- in a election dominated by memories of 9/11, fear of terrorism, the quagmire in Iraq and relentlessly negative attacks on our presidential candidate,” he said.

He also said that the Bush administration “falsely hypes almost every issue as a crisis” to generate support for its policies.

“They did it on Iraq, and they are doing it now on Social Security,” Kennedy said. “They exploit the politics of fear and division, while ours is a politics of hope and unity.”

White House officials defend the president’s policies by saying he’d prefer to deal with problems sooner rather than later -- whether the threat is the regime of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein or the potential insolvency of the Social Security system.

In outlining his agenda, Kennedy emphasized further reform of the education system, especially the financing of college educations. He urged Republicans to make a commitment to finance higher education for all high school graduates, calling for lower-cost agreements with student loan providers.


“If Republicans truly care about values, they will join us in throwing the money changers out of the temple of college education.”

Kennedy also called for Medicare to be expanded to cover all Americans, regardless of age, and he said Republican attacks on the idea as “socialized medicine” were “a generation out of date.”

“It’s no secret that America is still dearly in love with Medicare,” he said. “Administrative costs are low. Patient satisfaction is high. Unlike with many private insurers, they can still choose their doctor and their hospital.”