But there’s one clear and simple impact of Kennedy’s death late Tuesday night: The push for a climate-change bill in the Senate lost a reliable supporter.
That push needs absolutely every vote it can get. Check out Grist’s running count of Senate votes to see just how close a vote could be.
It will take months to get a replacement for Kennedy in the Senate. He called on Massachusetts state lawmakers to change the rules so the governor could appoint an immediate successor, but they haven’t acted. The state is expected to hold a special election to fill Kennedy’s seat in January. Massachusetts voters are likely to elect another Democrat who supports climate legislation, but by next year that could be too late. The big Copenhagen climate-treaty talks will take place in December, and the Obama administration, leaders from other countries, and climate activists around the world want Congress to have passed a climate bill before then, so the U.S. can come to the negotiating table with something in hand.
The early chatter about Kennedy’s death is all about the impact on health-care legislation. New York magazine has a roundup of commentary on whether his passing will help or hurt a health-care bill. I’m not sure what to make of the idea that senators might be more willing to pass a bill in tribute to Kennedy. Or the idea that this mortality check might convince them to take a break from delaying, posturing, fear-mongering, and pandering to their industry funders on the health-care issue. It seems even less likely anything like that would happen with a climate bill. Kennedy took climate change plenty seriously, but it wasn’t his signature issue–health care was.
Personally, I’m taken by this brief thought from Matt Yglesias, who starts with Kennedy’s closing line from his 1980 Democratic Convention speech:
“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
… what I take Kennedy to be doing here is trying to offer an alternative to the boom-bust mentality that I think often overtakes American progressives. There’s a tendency to get extremely wound up with optimism about the imminent dawn of sudden and radical change for the better, and then intensely bitter, cynical, and depressed when that fails to materialize. The reality, however, is that change is hard. That’s not an excuse for the people who stand in its way, it’s the reality. But if you respond to the difficulty of making things better by giving up or getting frustrated, then it only gets harder.
Building a better country and a world is work–hard work–and it’s work that goes on. And on. And on.