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TYRRELL: Ted Kennedy’s reform school

The ‘Lion of the Senate’ taught well the advantages of raising hell

I am immersed in research on the life of he who was called the Lion of the Senate, Edward M. Kennedy, known by one and all as Teddy. Readers of this column will be surprised to hear that I do not think his life was totally devoted to mischief. Oh, yes, there was the Chappaquiddick mishap. And one cannot ignore the slandering of Judge Robert Bork, which was at once ignorant and unconscionable. Judge Bork at the time of Teddy's outburst against him was probably indifferent to abortion and, at any rate, would not have made the elimination of abortion his obsession if he were raised to the Supreme Court. Obviously, it was one of Teddy's obsessions, despite the teachings of his church.

Yet Teddy did some good. He served the people of Massachusetts well. He was, for them and for the country, a far superior senator than the zany John F. Kerry. He could work with Republicans at times, and he did so occasionally with good result, for instance in education.

Yet he was the embodiment of a particularly noxious impulse often found in the anatomy of the leftist. It is the urge to be constantly engaged. Even when there is no plausible goal or hope of improving things, the leftist is engaged. One sees this mischievous impulse at work in Teddy on the one issue to which he devoted his life: immigration.

From his earliest days in the Senate until his last, he kept struggling for an ever-changing, usually worsening, set of policies toward relaxing our immigration laws. He would invoke some pathetic image of a little Irish boy appearing on Ellis Island many moons ago. His nose was running. He had holes in his pants. The waif was supposedly Teddy's direct ancestor, and look how in two or three generations that little boy's progeny created one of the most colossal fortunes in America.

Truth be told, by the late 20th century — Teddy having worked his will with immigration reforms — that mythical little Irish boy's modern-day equivalent could not get into the country, and what boys have arrived mostly did so illegally, hazarding life and limb for a job that was tenuous and for a life that was beyond the security and sanctions of the law. We had a workable system for immigration in the early 1960s. By the time Teddy turned up his toes, immigration was practically hopeless. I submit to you the Senate's recent 1,200-page immigration bill.

Teddy's devotion to immigration relaxation is a variation of one of my prized discoveries regarding the left. I used to call them liberals, but with the advent of President Obama, liberalism is dead, having been replaced by what we call the left. Both defunct, liberalism and the left have always been devoted to only one unchanging principle: disturbing one's neighbor. They are not for freedom. They are not for order. The left is for disturbing the peace, and Teddy did a lot of hell-raising in his day. Sometimes, it involved "reform." Sometimes, it entailed just hell-raising. I shall not elaborate. This is a family-friendly organ of opinion.

Perhaps you have wondered of late about the national movement to legalize marijuana. It comes on the heels of a vast national movement to eliminate from daily life an addiction that was widely practiced, though it endangered no one other than occasional smokers; namely, tobacco. Incidentally, the legalization of marijuana also comes amid a prohibition movement that has gone mostly unnoticed, the modern-day prohibition of alcohol. The legal limit of blood alcohol allowed while driving is usually 0.08 percent in the states. Now the National Transportation Safety Board recommends that the states cut it by more than a third, to 0.05 percent. Can total prohibition be far behind?

At any rate, the government's war against tobacco continues even as the left and a few libertarians make great gains for legalizing marijuana. This, despite the fact that marijuana bears the same peril as tobacco — lung problems, cancer, immunological problems — and other maladies of which tobacco has never been accused. I have in mind psychosis and other psychological problems, impaired learning and the interference with memory, perceptions and judgment. For that matter, the perils of marijuana are not unlike alcohol: car accidents and workplace incidents.

Why, then, are we in a mad dash to legalize marijuana and to proscribe tobacco and booze? If only the Lion of the Senate were alive, we could ask him. Maybe it has to do with some mythical little Irish boy who never had a chance to stink up a room with "weed."

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute.

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