KENNEDY’S UNFINISHED WORK…. Obviously, under the circumstances, much of the political world will honor Sen. Edward Kennedy today, and mourn his passing. It’s unlikely we’ll hear politicians or people in positions of authority openly speculating on the implications of the Senate’s greatest lawmaker passing before the cause of his life could be completed.

But it won’t be long before talk of Kennedy’s unrivaled legacy shifts to Kennedy’s unfinished work. Greg Sargent noted this morning, “It’s tempting to imagine that his death could prod the Senate into action on health care reform. It would be an extraordinary, and perhaps fitting, historical irony if Kennedy’s death provided the final moral impetus to accomplish one of the primary causes to which he dedicated his life.”

It’s tempting, indeed. Noam Scheiber wrote over the weekend, before any of us knew any details about the senator’s condition, about the likely political consequences of the Liberal Lion’s passing.

…If Kennedy were to pass away in the next few months, the Senate math on any health care vote would almost certainly get easier, not harder. For one thing, it would single-handedly make the magic number 51 votes, not 60, since it would be suicidal for the GOP to filibuster the culmination of the last Kennedy brother’s lifelong crusade. Beyond that, I suspect the coverage of Kennedy’s death would silence healthcare reform critics and boost proponents in a way that netted at least a couple of wavering moderates — so clearing the 51-vote threshold wouldn’t be a problem. Heck, you might even see Utah Republican (and longtime Kennedy friend) Orrin Hatch back in the reformist camp.

So all the maneuvering around Kennedy’s hypothetical replacement strikes me as unnecessary at best and possibly even counterproductive, since it could only detract from what would otherwise be a powerful (and authentic) emotional outpouring in the event of Kennedy’s passing.

I would love to believe this is correct. Honestly, I would. And it’s possible that honorable lawmakers are capable of more humanity than I give them credit for.

Time will tell.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.