Richard Nixon, when asked his opinion of an up-and-coming Texan named George Herbert Walker Bush, famously replied with casual disinterest, observing that Bush was alright as ambitious young pols went.

Then, Nixon lit up at the thought of Bush’s wife, Barbara.

“Now,” he declared, gleefully, “there’s a woman who knows how to hate.”

In the circles of contemporary Republicanism, the ability to hate is the most highly valued of skills.

That is main reason why, in the party’s time of current peril, radio host Rush Limbaugh has emerged as the Grand Old Party’s dominant figure.

Limbaugh knows how to hate.

He spews verbal venom at President Obama, Congressman James Clyburn, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Limbaugh even disdains Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele.

Despite his “Operation Chaos” hijinks during last year’s Democratic presidential primary season, Limbaugh has heaped hate on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the better part of two decades, and on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Senator Barbara Boxer and the National Organization for Women.

But no individual or group has suffered the scorn of Limbaugh for so long, and with such intensity, as Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy.

So it should come as a shock to no one that, even as Kennedy battles brain cancer, Limbaugh is still taking shots at the distinguished senator.

Forget about the fact that Kennedy long ago earned a reputation as a legislative craftsman of the highest order, winning the praise and friendship even of conservatives such as Utah Senator Orrin Hatch.

Limbaugh still uses Kennedy as a punching bag.

Thus, Limbaugh finished his week of infamy with a rant against healthcare reform that was meant to pick on the president but could not resist taking a shot at the senator whose name is most closely and consistently linked with the struggle to reform a broken system. “So he’s [Obama has] moved on to health care,” the host rambled. “This is highly visible, it’s news leading, gets a great focus, plus it has the great liberal lion Teddy Kennedy pushing it. Before it’s all over it will be called the Ted Kennedy Memorial Health Care Bill.”

Playing the prospect of a senior senator’s death for laughs is creepy. And it drew the predictable rebukes. (“Even for someone with a long, sordid history of spewing sexist, racist, and disgusting rhetoric, Rush Limbaugh has really outdone himself this time with this wildly uncalled for and tasteless remark about ailing Senator Ted Kennedy,” complained Jeremy Funk of Americans United for Change. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee DCCC executive director Brian Wolff declared: “Rush Limbaugh’s reprehensible remark that, ‘ before it’s all over, it’ll be called the Ted Kennedy Memorial Health Care bill’ is truly outrageous. Leader Limbaugh minimizes the struggle of hardworking Americans without access to affordable health care and demonizes a patriotic Senator who has spent his life fighting so that every person has the opportunity to live the American dream. Leader Limbaugh crossed the line. National Republicans must stand up to their leader, Rush Limbaugh, and tell him that enough is enough.”)

But there is only one appropriate rebuke for the likes of Limbaugh.

That is to reject the ridicule and embrace the object of the hatred.

The national health care legislation that America so surely needs should be named for Kennedy.

Ideally, the designation would celebrate the senator’s triumph in his fight with cancer.

But there is simply no question that Kennedy has battled longer and harder than anyone else in Washington to expand access to health care for all Americans.

So, yes, make it the Edward Kennedy National Health Care Bill.

Let Limbaugh have his hate.

Let Ted Kennedy — and the humane and responsible advocates for reform who have battled all these years at the side of the liberal lion — have the last laugh.