Your morning jolt: How Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter created each other

After winning a second nomination for president in 1980, President Jimmy Carter, left, shakes hands with Sen. Edward Kennedy on the podium at the Democratic National Convention in New York's Madison Square Garden. Associated Press.

After winning a second nomination for president in 1980, President Jimmy Carter, left, shakes hands with Sen. Edward Kennedy on the podium at the Democratic National Convention in New York's Madison Square Garden. Associated Press.

Revised at 4:50 p.m. Monday:

Early Wednesday morning, Jimmy Carter issued his formal reaction to the death of U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy.

To speak anything but good about the dead would have been out of character.

“Sen. Kennedy was a passionate voice for the citizens of Massachusetts and an unwavering advocate for the millions of less fortunate in our country,” Carter said.

But it’s worth remembering that, for several years, Ted Kennedy was singled out by many Southern Democrats as the villain who robbed Georgia’s first president of a second term in the White House.

Kennedy’s 1980 primary challenge to Carter was, in a very real way, the making of both men. Weakened by the intraparty feud, Carter was defeated by a Hollywood actor turned California governor — and thereafter became the most active ex-president in U.S. history, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

For Kennedy, whose candidacy had been assumed since the murder of his two older brothers, losing to a peanut farmer who had materialized out of the nation’s post-Watergate funk marked the end of his presidential ambitions, and the real beginning of his Senate career.

The Kennedy family’s relationship with African-American leaders in Georgia dates back to the Civil Rights movement. U.S. Rep. John Lewis was waiting in Bobby Kennedy’s hotel room when the second Kennedy brother was assassinated.

“I loved him like a brother,” the Atlanta congressman said of Ted Kennedy on Wednesday.

Kennedy’s relationship with white conservative Democrats was more tenuous. And his attempt to shove Carter out of the White House still has many stumped.

Kennedy himself proved unable to articulate his ambition, giving a famously rambling answer when asked by a CBS newsman, “Why do you want to be president?”

Health care reform, of all things, was Kennedy’s main complaint. “The thing we focused on early on in the first few days was hospital cost containment, whereby we were going to try to stop increasing health costs. [Carter] and Kennedy just had different ideas about how to do that,” said Bert Lance, 78, an original member of the Carter circle.

Kennedy announced his candidacy within days of the assault by Iranian revolutionaries on the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Carter responded by telling a group of congressmen, “I’ll whip his ass.”

“The problem they had with Kennedy was not in the primary but the convention. Jimmy felt certain he could defeat Kennedy, and he did,” Lance said.

Kennedy’s speech in New York’s Madison Square Garden was the high point of the convention, Georgia Democrats who were there now admit. The address was, even in defeat, a repudiation of the centrist direction that Carter and others were pushing the Democratic party.

Count Ed Kilgore, a veteran Democratic strategist, among those who think Carter’s 1980 re-election was doomed with or without Kennedy’s interference. “I think the idea that Teddy’s challenge is what cost Jimmy the presidency is a real questionable premise,” said Kilgore, who at the time worked for Gov. George Busbee. “Given everything that was going on and how that presidential election developed, I think Jimmy was going to lose anyway. Objective reality was his enemy.”

There was even talk in the Carter camp that Kennedy was a useful foil, Kilgore remembered. “It allowed for Jimmy to show that he hadn’t lost his electoral chops, and could beat this legendary figure.”

Some unforgiving Carterites — and they still exist — remain unconvinced. They were able to renew their resentment when it was revealed several years later that, in December 1979, shortly after announcing his candidacy, Kennedy had embarked on his own foreign policy adventure.

In part to embarrass the man in the White House, Kennedy dispatched former Sen. James Abourezk of South Dakota on a secret trip to Iran, seeking to gain the release of the 52 American hostages. (The effort failed. The hostage crisis would be resolved only in the last hours of the Carter presidency.)

Although there may be division on the impact of Kennedy on Carter’s fortunes, no one — in the hours after his death — expressed doubt that Kennedy was a changed man after his 1980 defeat.

A recent biography of Kennedy by Adam Clymer posits that only after the drubbing from Carter did the Massachusetts senator resolve to make his mark in the U.S. Senate.

Kennedy did make a brief 39-day foray into the 1988 presidential campaign, but it amounted to nothing. His clash with Carter had defined him.

“Ted sought the White House, but destiny kept him in the Senate, where I believe his cumulative impact was substantially more than he would have likely achieved as president,” said former U.S. senator Sam Nunn, who served with Kennedy more than two decades.

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25 comments Add your comment

Mary Jo Kopechne

August 26th, 2009
9:57 am

Much like no one wants to say that Michael Jackson was a sick pervert, I am sure that the entire left will overlook that Ted Kennedy was nothing more than a murdering drunk. Ted Kennedy rode the coat-tails of his family name to a senate seat where he was often too druck to stay awake. He abused his power to the point of getting away with murder. Now, let’s celebrate his life!


August 26th, 2009
9:58 am


August 26th, 2009
10:08 am

Indeed, Kennedy led a disgraceful life that was heralded only by those who shared his warped view of society.

If he had received treatment via the health care system that he wanted US to have (not himself, of course), he would have been dead last year.

Proud Georgian

August 26th, 2009
10:14 am

I see at least one impolite nut is already at it this morning.

Jerry Douglas

August 26th, 2009
10:17 am

Well, I guess Rush Limbaugh is nothing but an obese drug abuser. Newt Gingrich (among many others not named) is nothing but a serial womanizer. George W. Bush is nothing but a drunk and a cocaine addict. George H. W. Bush is nothing but an adulterer. (And I, myself, who killed several men in an illegal and immoral military action in Southeast Asia many years ago am nothing but a murderer.) Need I go on?

Conservative Guy

August 26th, 2009
10:17 am

On his death day, can we at least put aside these insults. I promise, not all conservatives are raging nuts.

Madison County

August 26th, 2009
10:21 am

RGB- Please quit lying about health care reform. It’s hard enough to have a complex, national discussion about how to fix our broken system without you spreading complete falsehoods.

Merlot Winters

August 26th, 2009
10:44 am

Such compassionate and reasoned discourse from the right. I suppose Republicans are always forgiven for their sins, while Democrats are to suffer the fires of hell for theirs. Of course Bush family pedigree is something entirely different and somehow not equivalent. W’s body count is much higher than Teddy’s any day of the week, however.

a public servant

August 26th, 2009
11:10 am

What Ted Kennedy’s life can teach us is that there is a little bit of bad in the best of us and a little bit of good in the worst of us. A lifetime of service counts. It doesn’t negate the mistakes he made in his life anymore than the mistakes negate his service. Ted Kennedy’s life should show us that redemption is possible.

The Oddball

August 26th, 2009
11:25 am

Every time I resolve not to read the ignorant and mean-spirited rants that pass for discourse on AJC blogs, I read a post like that of “a public servant.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Hoops McCann

August 26th, 2009
1:33 pm

Ted Kennedy finally gets his day of judgment for his horrible actions 40 years ago. No amount of money or what last name he has will help him with this verdict. Ted is probably burning below us as we speak. Now, Mary Jo can finally rest in peace!

cletus T. rockafella

August 26th, 2009
1:59 pm

Well, as my late mama use to say, if you have nothing good to say…………………………………………….
That said, I think what Mr. Kennedy did late last night is, in fact, his greatest contribution to America.


August 26th, 2009
2:18 pm

Madison obviously hasn’t read the bill.

Here’s the link:

Here are the 53 New Bureaucracies that would be created upon passage of H.R. 3200.

New Federal Bureaucracies Created in Democrat Health “Reform”
The following is a list of all the new boards, bureaucracies, commissions, and programs created in H.R. 3200, “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act:”

1.Health Benefits Advisory Committee (Section 123, p. 30)
2.Health Choices Administration (Section 141, p. 41)
3.Qualified Health Benefits Plan Ombudsman (Section 144, p. 47)
4.Program of administrative simplification (Section 163, p. 57)
5.Retiree Reserve Trust Fund (Section 164(d), p. 70)
6.Health Insurance Exchange (Section 201, p. 72)
7.Mechanism for insurance risk pooling to be established by Health Choices Administration Commissioner (Section 206(b), p. 106)
8.Special Inspector General for the Health Insurance Exchange (Section 206(c), p. 107)
9.Health Insurance Exchange Trust Fund (Section 207, p. 109)
10.State-based Health Insurance Exchanges (Section 208, p. 111)
11.“Public Health Insurance Option” (Section 221, p. 116)
12.Ombudsman for “Public Health Insurance Option” (Section 221(d), p. 117)
13.Account for receipts and disbursements for “Public Health Insurance Option” (Section 222(b), p. 119)
14.Telehealth Advisory Committee (Section 1191, p. 380)
15.Demonstration program providing reimbursement for “culturally and linguistically appropriate services” (Section 1222, p. 405)
16.Demonstration program for shared decision making using patient decision aids (Section 1236, p. 438)
17.Accountable Care Organization pilot program (Section 1301, p. 443)
18.Independent patient-centered medical home pilot program under Medicare (Section 1302, p. 462)
19.Community-based medical home pilot program under Medicare (Section 1302(d), p. 468)
20.Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research (Section 1401(a), p. 502)
21.Comparative Effectiveness Research Commission (Section 1401(a), p. 505)
22.Patient ombudsman for comparative effectiveness research (Section 1401(a), p. 519)
23.Quality assurance and performance improvement program for skilled nursing facilities (Section 1412(b)(1), p. 546)
24.Quality assurance and performance improvement program for nursing facilities (Section 1412 (b)(2), p. 548)
25.Special focus facility program for skilled nursing facilities (Section 1413(a)(3), p. 559)
26.Special focus facility program for nursing facilities (Section 1413(b)(3), p. 565)
27.National independent monitor pilot program for skilled nursing facilities and nursing facilities (Section 1422, p. 607)
28.Demonstration program for approved teaching health centers with respect to Medicare GME (Section 1502(d), p. 674)
29.Pilot program to develop anti-fraud compliance systems for Medicare providers (Section 1635, p. 716)
30.Medical home pilot program under Medicaid (Section 1722, p. 780)
31.Comparative Effectiveness Research Trust Fund (Section 1802, p. 824)
32.“Identifiable office or program” within CMS to “provide for improved coordination between Medicare and Medicaid in the case of dual eligibles” (Section 1905, p. 852)
33.Public Health Investment Fund (Section 2002, p. 859)
34.Scholarships for service in health professional needs areas (Section 2211, p. 870)
35.Loan repayment program for service in health professional needs areas (Section 2211, p. 873)
36.Program for training medical residents in community-based settings (Section 2214, p. 882)
37.Grant program for training in dentistry programs (Section 2215, p. 887)
38.Public Health Workforce Corps (Section 2231, p. 898)
39.Public health workforce scholarship program (Section 2231, p. 900)
40.Public health workforce loan forgiveness program (Section 2231, p. 904)
41.Grant program for innovations in interdisciplinary care (Section 2252, p 917)
42.Advisory Committee on Health Workforce Evaluation and Assessment (Section 2261, p. 920)
43.Prevention and Wellness Trust (Section 2301, p. 932)
44.Clinical Prevention Stakeholders Board (Section 2301, p. 941)
45.Community Prevention Stakeholders Board (Section 2301, p. 947)
46.Grant program for community prevention and wellness research (Section 2301, p. 950)
47.Grant program for community prevention and wellness services (Section 2301, p. 951)
48.Grant program for public health infrastructure (Section 2301, p. 955)
49.Center for Quality Improvement (Section 2401, p. 965)
50.Assistant Secretary for Health Information (Section 2402, p. 972)
51.Grant program to support the operation of school-based health clinics (Section 2511, p. 993)
52.National Medical Device Registry (Section 2521, p. 1001)
53.Grants for labor-management programs for nursing training (Section 2531, p. 1008)

No thinking person can believe that the above will “fix our broken system.” Remember that I said “no thinking person.”


August 26th, 2009
2:27 pm

The Health reform legislation Kennedy promoted would have denied him care if he had been on the Government Option. Kennedy was old, obese, and under ObamaCare his life wouldn’t have been worth spending the money on.

Am I overstating the case? Here’s Obama’s answer when a woman asked whether her mother would have been “allowed” to receive a pacemaker even though she was old. The President’s answer: “… we just make have to tell your grandmother … to take a pill.”

Take Obama’s word for it:


August 26th, 2009
2:31 pm

One other point I should make:

The Democrats have refused to agree to subject themselves to the Public Option health plan—should one become law—by voting against Congressman Ryan’s amendment in Ways and Means that would have made this the law.

If the Democrats don’t believe the Public Option is good enough for their families, then why would I want it for mine? Kennedy wanted you to have a health plan he wouldn’t even consider for himself.

Is this the new “Separate But Equal”?


August 26th, 2009
5:31 pm

The Kennedy family treated Massachusetts like their own personal fiefdom. Now the long monarchy is over. Joe Kennedy made his fortune on bootlegging and such ruthless, unethical business practices he makes today’s Wall Street crooks look like choir boys. This enabled him to “buy” the presidency for his son, John. The rest is history. Literally.

Political Foreskin

August 26th, 2009
6:51 pm

Only the good die young. Frankly, I was surprised to find out that he had a brain in which a cancer could form.

Madison County

August 26th, 2009
6:51 pm

Well, obviously I struck a chord with RGB! LOL Since hurling insults is the way that he believes “thinking people” should discuss important policy matters, please forgive me for engaging.

I was going to say he was playing fast and loose with the facts… but as slow as he appears to be, I suppose that only the term loose applies. Nice job cutting and pasting by the way.

RGB has a whole bunch of right wing radio talking points that he would like to share. Too bad he’s spent so much time learning one-sided fiction. Otherwise, he might be able to fathom that President Obama and Senator Kennedy have been attempting to EXPAND health care coverage and fix our broken system so that we have longer lives, not shorter.

Currently, we spend way too much $$ with wildly varied outcomes (this appears to be the way that right-wingers like to do business when they are in charge). While I’d like to see some more cost control in the various proposals (btw, there is more than one “bill” to read Mr. RGB) and there are some unfinished items to say the least, it’s at least a good starting point for a national dialogue. Speaking of a good start, could we at least agree to quit lying about the death panels, etc.

Thomas Jefferson

August 26th, 2009
7:46 pm

Isn’t it ironic that Bert Lance states, “The thing we focused on early on in the first few days was hospital cost containment, whereby we were going to try to stop increasing health costs. [Carter] and Kennedy just had different ideas about how to do that,” yet Lance’s youngest son, Beverly Lance, who died almost three years ago, spent five weeks in ICU and had no health insurance. Who do you suppose paid for that bill? The tax payers did. The Lances, like the Carters, Clintons, Kennedy’s, Obamas and all of the Democrats, are elitist and feel they are entitled!

Political Foreskin

August 26th, 2009
7:56 pm

Carter has himself to blame for his loss in 1980. Carter was a miserable President. End of story.

Jimmy the Dawg

August 26th, 2009
10:53 pm

We didn’t know what a miserable presidency was until the failure that was “W.”

Jenny the Dawg

August 26th, 2009
11:34 pm

I’m sad that Ted didn’t live long enough to change the law he was pushing that would allow the DEMOCRAT governor the power to appoint an interim senator. What’s funny is prior to 2004…that is EXACTLY what the law allowed but Ted was afraid John Kerry might win the presidency and with the law granting the governor that right it would mean that Republican Mitt Romeny would assign an intermin. Well…Ted couldn’t have a Republican governor assign an interim senator so HE and his Democrat buddies CHANGED THE LAW to read that a special election must be held. Funny stuff. The law came back to bite him and he died before he could change it back….and don’t think he wouldn’t have. Ted was a very powerful man….the old grim reaper just took him a bit too soon.
REgarding healthcare…can someone tell me……being that he was such a powerful man why oh why didn’t he get ANYTHING done in the way of healthcare ALL THOSE YEARS HE WAS IN THE SENATE. HE DIDN’T SUPPORT HILLARY…WHY NOT???? If it was such a big deal to him why didn’t he do something….make changes BEFORE he died??
He couldn’t care less about healthcare for the citizens. He just wanted a legacy other than the one he created for himself throughout the years.
RIP Mary Jo.

Jenny the Dawg

August 26th, 2009
11:36 pm

OH dear god the Democrats are now calling healthcare reform KENNEDYCARE!! If they thought they lost voters with Obamacare then they are even dumber than the Republicans.
Kennedycare…..what a joke.

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