Senator Edward Kennedy gave two magnificent speeches last week, but only one received the attention it deserved. While his blistering attack on the Bush Administration for manipulating and distorting intelligence to justify attacking Iraq was noted in the Washington Post and other papers, the Senator’s fiery progressive manifesto–delivered at a New York conference called Re-Imagining the Welfare State–went virtually unreported.
In the large hall at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City on the afternoon of March 1, Kennedy came out swinging at an Administration that wants to roll back the hard-earned rights and liberties of the 20th century. “One by one,” Kennedy boomed, “issue by issue, program by program, the Republican Right has methodically turned away from policies which brought about a century of progress for working Americans. They want to build the 21st century economy on 19th century economic values, as if the last 100 years had not occurred. For them the law of the jungle is the best economic policy for America–not equal opportunity, not fairness, not the American dream. Their ideas will inevitably result in a lesser America, and have already meant a growing gulf between rich and poor.”
** “Today’s Republicans are very different from those who led their party in earlier years. The Republican Party is now controlled by ideological extremists who reject any meaningful role for government in expanding economic opportunity or preventing the abuses of private economic power. Some of them even openly proclaim that their goal is to ‘starve the beast’–cut taxes so low that government will not have the resources to play a meaningful role in the economy. These latter day Social Darwinians clearly believe those who assemble great concentrations of wealth should be unfettered and permitted to dominate the nation’s economic life, as much as they did in the late 19th century.”
** “Progressives cannot continue to play defense in the battle of ideas. The stakes are too high. Nor can we allow ourselves to be cast as mere defenders of the status quo. We must make the debate between our vision of the future versus theirs. In reality, it is the Republican Right which is wedded to the ideas of the distant past, 19th century ideas which America rejected in the early years of the last century. We should portray them for what they are, Neanderthal merchants of outmoded ideas recycled from long ago.”
**”Republicans love to quote President Kennedy on cutting taxes, but as I remind them, the top tax bracket on his Inaugural Day was 91 percent.”
** Kennedy also came out in support of greater and wiser use of the trillions of dollars in pension funds—a stance that progressive economists in and out of the labor movement, as well as elected officials like California Treasurer Phil Angelides have pushed. “At least a small portion of the trillions could be invested in public projects for public investment. If just five percent of the nation’s pension funds were invested, at competitive rates, directly in job-creating and economy-building activities, more than $300 billion in assets could be made available, in a manner consistent with both the security and growth of the pension funds.”
For more, click here and please pass the word about Kennedy’s “other” speech. Also click here to read “Iraq and US Leadership” by the senior senator from Massachusetts from the March 29, 2004 issue of The Nation. You can also click here to see a schedule of the many other valuable events being staged at the CUNY Graduate Center this spring.