I know this is a tough time for my friends who supported Bernie Sanders. A few weeks ago I felt the same sense of sadness and disappointment when my candidate Elizabeth Warren dropped out. Though these two stalwart progressives lost the race to be the Democratic nominee, they still have a positive effect in converting many new people to progressive ideas like universal health care, free child care, and paid sick leave. Both Warren and Sanders helped move the political center of this country further to the Left, and made it politically safe for more moderate politicians like Joe Biden to hold more progressive stances. Though they are no longer presidential candidates, Warren and Sanders can still fight for progressive ideas in the Senate.
One past Senator that Warren and Sanders can look to as an example of a failed presidential candidate who continued to champion progressive ideas in the Senate is Ted Kennedy.
Ted Kennedy ran in the Democratic primaries as the liberal alternative to President Jimmy Carter’s policies and to Ronald Reagan’s conservative vision for America. Kennedy’s early political fumbles and continued questions of his character due to Chappaquiddick prevented him from winning against Jimmy Carter.
After Carter lost the general election to Ronald Reagan, Senator Kennedy returned to the Senate with a renewed sense of mission to transform his progressive vision into meaningful legislation. Kennedy developed close working and personal friendships with both Democrats and Republicans and was able to find areas of common ground with his conservative Republican counterparts in which to collaborate.
Kennedy had some of his greatest legislative accomplishments after his presidential ambitions ended in 1980. Among the legislation that Kennedy passed after 1980: the Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals Act of 1986, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act of 1990, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 1997, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act of 1986, and the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1985.
Kennedy led the Congressional fight to impose sanctions against South Africa over apartheid, succeeded in banning arm sales to Chile’s dictator Augusto Pinochet, helped greatly in the long effort to bring peace to Northern Ireland, and was a leading opponent of the Iraq war in the 2000s.
Kennedy fought for the civil rights of African Americans, Hispanics, women, immigrants, LGBTQ people, the disability community and other minority communities.