The political agenda outlined in Ted Kennedy’s speech at the 1980 Democratic convention was radical: Kennedy called for a policy of full employment, government intervention to “reindustrialize” American cities, and universal health care. Having lost the Democratic nomination, “his liberalism was unbound," writes David Brooks for the New York Times. But upon returning to the Senate, Kennedy changed gears. He became a deal-maker, a compromiser, an “incrementalist,” who got things done, Brooks writes.
That strategy resulted in the legacy Americans are now celebrating, notes Brooks. This illustrates a fundamental truth about US politics: the founding fathers designed our political system to frustrate radical reformers and reward incrementalists, he adds. The most successful politicians are those who attempt to “smooth the rough edges” of America’s dynamic and often cutthroat culture, writes Brooks, not those who “seek to contradict it.”