Through the story of Ted Kennedy (1932-2009), the authors deliver a primer on how the governmental sausage was made not so long ago.
When the Republicans took over Congress in the wake of the 1994 midterm elections, most savvy political observers assumed it meant the death knell of President Bill Clinton’s domestic agenda and possibly of his presidency. However, Kennedy was among the Democrats unwilling simply to roll over for Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.” Instead, Kennedy used his grasp of the congressional process, his interpersonal relationships across the aisle, and his tenacity to fight to forestall, moderate, and ameliorate the Republican governing agenda, emerging in the process with a few of his own legislative goals intact. In this book, readers receive an inside glimpse at how politics happen, especially from the vantage point of the minority party. The narrative comes primarily from the perspective of Littlefield, Kennedy’s longtime aid and chief domestic policy adviser. His copious notes from his own involvement in these events drive the text, and he wrote the book until he fell seriously ill and Nexon, Kennedy’s senior health policy adviser, stepped in to complete the project. The authors provide a fine rendering that deserves a wide readership, but in this age of heightened partisanship and ideology, it likely won’t reach much beyond a Democratic audience, especially because the portrait they paint of Kennedy is so laudatory. This is an indictment of our age, not of this book, which admires its subject but also takes its topic, the political process, seriously. Littlefield and Nexon reveal a man unafraid of fights but also one willing and able to reach across the aisle to colleagues who often opposed him but nearly universally respected him.
Readers willing to accept this book as more than hagiography will find a penetrating exploration of how the legislative process works—or at least worked in the recent past.