Jimmy Carter Blames Ted Kennedy For Failure To Pass Health Care Reform

This handshake on August 14, 1980 in Madison Square Garden put an end to the public contest between President Carter and Senator Kennedy, but now the former President has decided it's time to reopen old wounds.

Senator Ted Kennedy has been dead for more than a year now, so apparently former President Carter feels it’s now appropriate to make it clear that he still holds a grudge against the guy who nearly defeated him for the Democratic nomination in 1980:

Former President Jimmy Carter says Americans could have had comprehensive health care coverage decades ago if Sen. Edward M. Kennedy hadn’t blocked a plan Carter had proposed.

Carter revisited the old spat in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” to be aired Sunday. Portions of the interview, prompted by the publication of his White House diary, were posted on the program’s Web site Thursday.

“The fact is that we would have had comprehensive health care now had it not been for Ted Kennedy’s deliberately blocking the legislation that I proposed,” Carter said in the interview. “It was his fault. Ted Kennedy killed the bill.” Carter cast his Democratic rival as spiteful. “He did not want to see me have a major success in that realm of life,” Carter said.


The disagreement over health care is noted in Carter’s latest book, “White House Diary.” According to a “60 Minutes” statement, Carter wrote at the time: “Kennedy continuing his irresponsible and abusive attitude, immediately condemning our health plan. He couldn’t get five votes for his plan.” Kennedy and Carter had competing health-care plans while Carter was president. Kennedy favored a more comprehensive approach that would have insured all Americans against health-care costs regardless of age or income. Carter backed a more moderate proposal that would have been phased in over several years.

In his 2009 memoir, “True Compass,” Kennedy blamed Carter for dragging his feet on health care and wrote that Carter viewed his health-care efforts as a platform to challenge his presidency.

“If that’s why he slowed things down, then he made a poor political calculation,” Kennedy wrote. “If we had passed comprehensive national health insurance together, it would have been a huge victory for Carter.” When asked in interviews about his biggest regret as a senator, Kennedy often recalled his failure to make a deal to pass President Richard Nixon’s sweeping health-care proposal in the early 1970s. Kennedy said that at the time he did not think it went far enough.

CBS has already released video from the interview:

I’m neither a Kennedy nor a Carter fan, but it strikes me as pretty classless to unload on a guy like this after he’s dead over a political dispute that was over 30 years ago.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Andre Kenji says:

    In fact, there is fire from both sides of the Democrats. Some years ago George McGovern revealed that he voted for Ford in 1976.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Fortunately, the former president is not one to hold a grudge.

  3. Pete says:

    Still the worst President in American history.

  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    “still the worst President in American history.”
    I think you have a very short-term view of American history.

  5. Tano says:

    Why would any independent observer criticize Carter as “classless’ for telling us what he really thinks about what happened on a major policy issue? I don’t imagine that Doug has any investment in protecting Ted Kennedy’s legacy or anything. So is this a gratuitous insult at Carter?
    I very much want our public officials to tell the truth, as they see it,  about the events as they unfolded when they were in the arena. How else can us peasants ever hope to get an accurate sense of the history being made around us?

  6. Jill Elswick says:

    Regardless of whether Carter was a “good” president or whether it is “in good taste” to criticize a dead man, I agree with Tano (above). I am glad Carter made these comments. They show what can happen when an influential person like Kennedy is unwilling to accept compromise. Kennedy had two chances in his life to support the health care reform proposals of sitting presidents, but he refused because he thought the proposals didn’t go far enough. He wanted to be a hero. He wanted too much. The greater good may have been served had he negotiated with Nixon and Carter on their ideas instead of grandstanding.

  7. Ron says:

    “Classless”. That’s assuming that Carter had any at all, ever. Subsequent events, outside of his charity work, demonstrates he does not.

  8. Pete says:

    I think you have a very short-term view of American history.
    Neil, you are right. I should have said, “in my lifetime.”