Monday :: Jan 28, 2008

In Praise of the Kennedys

by Turkana

If you want to talk Democratic ideas, look no further than the Kennedy clan. They tend to be dismissed as People Magazine American Royalty, but that says more about our media than about them. With Senator Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy having endorsed Barack Obama, and with the Clinton campaign reminding voters that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend have already endorsed Hillary, the Kennedy family is back making headlines. That can only be a good thing.

The Clintons deserve credit for having made our national health care crisis a national issue, in the 1990s. Of course, their plan was a byzantine mess, and it didn't go nearly far enough. For that matter, none of the current leading Democratic candidates advocate single-payer national health care, so they're all offering but different flavors of incrementalism. No surprise. As I keep writing, despite the campaign rhetoric, all three major Democratic candidates are basically traditional Democratic centrists. Of course, as I also keep writing, even as the Democratic candidates approach the major issues with nothing revolutionary, the Republican candidates rarely even notice there are issues to approach. We can argue over the nuances of the incrementalist approaches of Senators Clinton, Edwards, and Obama, but if you want a good, cynical laugh, take a look at the Republican candidates' approaches. But if you want to talk about vision and leadership on health care, look no further than Senator Kennedy. He wrote a book about it. In 1972. He's been advocating for National Health Insurance since the 1970s. Among many other issues on which he has consistently been ahead of the times, he's also been advocating for clean, renewable energy sources, since the 1970s. In our government, there is no greater champion for people, the environment, and innovative ideas than Senator Kennedy. And that has been the case for decades.

I'm also a particular fan of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. I've long hoped he'd get involved in electoral politics, but I also understand the many and complex reasons for his not doing so. But my admiration of Kennedy has nothing to do with his father or his family; it has everything to do with his ideas. No one better articulates the rationale for environmentalism. The most common criticism of environmentalism is that it's bad for the economy, and fundamentally opposed to capitalism. In a 2005 speech at the Sierra Club's National Convention, Kennedy turned that around. Environmentalism is not only not bad for capitalism, it is a means of rescuing true free-market capitalism.

I want to say this: There is no stronger advocate for free-market capitalism than myself. I believe that the free market is the most efficient and democratic way to distribute the goods of the land, and that the best thing that could happen to the environment is if we had true free-market capitalism in this country, because the free market promotes efficiency, and efficiency means the elimination of waste, and pollution of course is waste. The free market also would encourage us to properly value our natural resources, and it's the undervaluation of those resources that causes us to use them wastefully. But in a true free-market economy, you can't make yourself rich without making your neighbors rich and without enriching your community.

But what polluters do is they make themselves rich by making everybody else poor. They raise standards of living for themselves by lowering the quality of life for everybody else, and they do that by evading the discipline of the free market. You show me a polluter; I'll show you a subsidy. I'll show you a fat cat using political clout to escape the discipline of the free market and to force the public to pay his production costs. That's what all pollution is. It's always a subsidy. It's always a guy trying to cheat the free market.

Corporations are externalizing machines. They're constantly figuring out ways to get somebody else to pay their costs of production. That's their nature. One of the best ways to do that, and the most common way for a polluter, is through pollution. When those coal-burning power plants put mercury into the atmosphere that comes down from the Ohio Valley to my state of New York, I buy a fishing license for $30 every year, but I can't go fishing and eat the fish anymore because they stole the fish from me. They liquidated a public asset, my asset.

The rule is the commons are owned by all of us. They're not owned by the governor or the legislator or the coal companies and the utility. Everybody has a right to use them. Nobody has a right to abuse them. Nobody has a right to use them in a way that will diminish or injure their use and enjoyment by others. But they've stolen that entire resource from the people of New York State. When they put the acid rain in the air, it destroys our forest, and it destroys the lakes that we use for recreation or outfitting or tourism or wealth generation. When they put the mercury in the air, the mercury poisons our children's brains, and that imposes a cost on us. The ozone in particular has caused a million asthma attacks a year, kills 18,000 people, causes hundreds of thousands of lost work days. All of those impacts impose costs on the rest of us that in a true free-market economy should be reflected in the price of that company's product when it makes it to the marketplace.

What those companies and all polluters do is use political clout to escape the discipline of the free market and to force the public to pay their costs. All of the federal environmental laws, every one of the 28 major environmental laws, were designed to restore free-market capitalism in America by forcing actors in the marketplace to pay the true cost of bringing their product to market.

It's quite long, but the entire speech is well worth reading.

It's always wonderful when the Kennedys reappear in the national political spotlight. The media will focus on the horse race aspects of the Kennedys' emergence into the presidential campaign, but we should remember what they are really all about: they are not royalty, and they are not mere celebrities; the Kennedys are among this nation's greatest champions of Democratic ideas and ideals.

Turkana :: 9:22 AM :: Comments (7) :: Digg It!