Despite Ted Kennedy’s reputation as a doctrinaire liberal, his long and substantial legislative accomplishments have required a strong belief in bipartisanship. He is especially effective at “finding Republicans to work with and sharing the credit, or even letting them have it all,” biographer Adam Clymer wrote.
Ted Kennedy has been one of the most hard-working and effective lawmakers in history, says Clymer, a New York Times reporter and longtime student of the Senate. To offset suspicions that he’s a liberal Kennedy-worshipers, Clymer said he voted for Senator Bob Dole against Bill Clinton in 1996.
Over Kennedy’s long career, his influence over the nation has probably been greater than either of his brothers, John or Robert, during their relatively short careers, Clymer says.
Despite his fiery partisan rhetoric, Teddy frequently reaches across the aisle to build consensus, and make alliances with Republicans, Clymer points out. For example, Kennedy worked with:
- Senator Bob Dole on childhood nutrition and food stamps legislation.
- Various Republicans to deregulate the airline industry in the late 1970s.
- Senator Dan Quayle, to pass the Job Training Partnership Act
- President George H. W. Bush, to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Senator Nancy Kassebaum, daughter of 1936 Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon, to pass a Health Insurance Portability Act.
- Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, in support of Public Broadcasting.
- President George W. Bush, to increase education spending significantly and pass the “No Child Left Behind” Act. Kennedy later said Bush broke his promise to fully fund the act, but that discussion will continue through Bush’s second term.
- Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, with whom he has worked to significantly increase funding for AIDS research, and to raise $30 billion in tobacco taxes to fund child health care.
- Coming up, he will be a key player in social security “reform.”
Despite differences of party, ideology, and the public roles they played as adversaries, Senator Kennedy was also an admirer of President Reagan. He recognized that he was a great communicator, a strong and decisive president who turned the country around from the Jimmy Carter “malaise.” After Reagan’s death, Kennedy said:
“On foreign policy he will be honored as the president who won the Cold War, and his ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall’ will be linked forever with President Kennedy’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ President Reagan and Nancy were always very gracious to the Kennedy family and they are both very much in our thoughts and prayers in this difficult time.” (Source: Fox News)
Long-time Kennedy skeptics are no doubt irritated that Teddy Kennedy might go down in history as a positive influence on the nation. To them, Teddy has had few good qualities to recommend him for anything. He’s little more than a tax-and-spend-liberal, a symbol of the welfare state, the permissive society, and everything that has gone wrong with the United States since the 1950s.
- In the 1960s, they portrayed him as an inarticulate, less than intelligent, pampered youngest child who would never have been elected to the Senate without his father’s money and his brother’s last name; a Northern hypocrite on civil rights who sought to impose high legal standards on Southerners by forcing integration and school busing on others while his own children were chauffeured to largely white private Catholic schools; a “criminal” who in 1969 got away with murder, manslaughter, or leaving the scene of an accident when other less-privileged individuals would have spent years in jail and whose political careers would have been destroyed by recklessness.
- In the 1970s, after his brothers were assassinated, National Rifle Association members portrayed him as a fanatical advocate of gun control, seeking to take away the guns of law-abiding citizens while hiding behind his own bodyguards who protected him with guns. Republicans portrayed him as an egotist who refused to broker a deal with President Nixon to achieve national health insurance reform because of his own presidential ambitions. Some Democrats said he destroyed Jimmy Carter’s chances of re-election in 1980 by creating unrealistic expectations for Carter and by his own bitter run against him.
- In the early 1980s, Reaganites charged that he was a misguided advocate of a “nuclear freeze,” hysterically kicking up public fears of “nuclear winter.” He was proven wrong on that issue when President Reagan successfully spent the Soviets into oblivion, they claim. In the mid-eighties through 1991, Republicans saw him as a holier-than-thou pompous windbag on civil rights, who used “scorched earth tactics” to unfairly and successfully portray Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork as a bigot; and whose staff first leaked accusations that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas as an employer engaged in sex discrimination against Anita Hill.
- Throughout his career, adversaries have portrayed Kennedy as a binge drinker or gluttonous alcoholic; a shallow roue who imbibed “too much wine, women and song”; a shrewd, ruthless operator who has been in the Senate long enough to know how to manipulate the rules unfairly in his favor; a man doomed to a stature far smaller and far inferior to that of his brothers; the head of an arrogant, dysfunctional family of sex addicts and abusers, who toss aside spouses, and, because of their political power, manage to get their marriages annulled by the Catholic Church.
And those are no doubt Teddy’s good qualities! It will be interesting to see how scholars sort out fact from fiction in examining Kennedy’s life.
Other than the Clintons, there isn’t a Democrat in politics today whose very name can still make some people so apoplectic that they will pull out their checkbooks and oppose anything “that Kinni-dy” supports.
Assessing Ted Kennedy’s Career Should Include Measuring Effectiveness of Social Safety Nets and Modern Welfare State
Ted Kennedy’s web site, in the “timeline” section, has a long list of legislative accomplishments. It would be interesting to assess, with some historical perspective, the impact of these programs.
To call him the preserver if not the chief creator of either a compassionate society or the modern welfare state (depending on one’s point of view) does not strike me as an over-statement.
I’m including generic Google links so that by following the links one can begin to assess the pros and cons of these programs.
It is not enough for political ideologues to declare with a broad paint brush that they uniformally support or oppose these laws and programs. To be truly knowledgeable, one must assess them on a case-by-case basis:
- the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964;
- the Bilingual Education Act of 1968;
- federal fuel assistance for low-income citizens when prices skyrocket over short periods of time;
- the Meals on Wheels program;
- the Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program (WIC);
- legal services for the poor;
- emergency health services for the poor;
- improved educational opportunities for the handicapped;
- National family planning initiatives;
- low income energy assistance programs;
- numerous minimum wage increases. What was their actual impact?
- various welfare-to-jobs incentives; and welfare to work initiatives, such as providing individuals with access to job training, adult education, job placement, child care, transportation assistance and case management;
- various expansions of the Head Start program;
- various expansions of summer jobs for youths programs;
- creation and expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act;
- the School to Work Opportunities Act of 1994 (research), which provided seed money for local school-to-work programs designed and run by local business, education, community and labor leaders.
- Basic funding for Community Action programs nationwide.
Ironically, on health care, he sponsored original legislation to encourage the development of health maintenance organizations, but has become one of their harshest congressional critics, pushing for a “bill of rights” for patients in HMOs.
Coming up, he will be a key player in social security “reform.”
On America’s place in the world, and foreign policy, he has helped shape U.S. relations with Russia, various countries in Africa, the Middle East, Central and South America.
- Kennedy for nearly 40 years has helped to shape America’simmigration policies.
- He opposed Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars Initiative, which thanks to him and despite Reagan mythologizing, was never built, as Lars-Erik Nelson pointed out in 2000.
- He lobbied President Clinton to push for peace between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, to create a permanent peace process, and formed the Congressional Friends of Ireland.
Senator Edward Kennedy, photo from The Boston Globe.
Senator Kennedy clearly stepped out of his brothers’ historical shadow when he and the University of Virginia announced the creation of the Edward M. Kennedy Center for the Study of the United States Senate.
Now 72, Kennedy’s career has already spanned 42 years — he has served with nine presidents. Since he has already announced that he expects to run for re-election in 2006, if his health holds and he serves out that term, he will have served with at least 10 presidents. By the time he’s 80, his political career will have spanned half a century, more than 20 percent of the entire history of the U.S. Senate, which convened for the first time nearly 216 years ago, in 1789.
Probably everyone who thought anything at all about the matter expected Ted Kennedy’s papers, archives and story to become wholly a part of the JFK Libraryin Boston. Surprisingly, he’s striking out on his own historical path by sealing this deal with UVA, where he went to law school.
Right-wing media headline is predictable: “Ted Kennedy proposes monument to himself.” But UVA and Kennedy say researchers will do a “no-holes-barred” examination of all aspects of his life, interviewing adversaries as well as supporters, and use his long career to learn and teach how legislators do their jobs, how laws are made, and how a major senator influences presidents of both parties. Scholars will also be able to assess the wisdom of Kennedy’s positions on issues, given the perspective of history.
- Edward Kennedy Oral History Project, Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia (includes video clips).
Ted Kennedy’s Personal Life Apparently Not What His Early Image Suggested; Religious Beliefs, Volunteering Important to Him
Senator Kennedy has settled down a lot since 1992, if his reputation as a roue was ever what it was purported to be.
Twenty-five years ago, it was difficult to imagine casually walking down a sidewalk on Capitol Hill, eye-balling the senior senator from Massachusetts, the once proud and pressured scion of American “royalty,” scooping his dogs’ poop off the grass. But, according to a summer 2004 Washington Post profile, it’s not uncommon at all to see Senator Kennedy taking his dogs for a romp in the park, and conscientiously scooping up and filling a bag full of their poop.
No doubt, some in politics wish Ted Kennedy could spend the rest of his days scooping up poop — either the literal kind or the figurative kind found, they believe, in most legislation drafted by “liberals” like Teddy.
If the image of Teddy the pooper-scooper is far too humble to grace GOP anti-Kennedy fundraising letters, an even more humble image is that of Senator Kennedy spending one lunch hour a week serving as a reading tutoring to an elementary school student in Washington. It’s part of his support for theEverybody Wins literacy network. He and First Lady Laura have joined together to promote the organization. (Source: Education Week).
And then there’s Ted’s religious commitment, which surely rankles those Christians who consider him a heretic. He is purportedly a devout if progressive Catholic, who can cite parts of the Catholic cathecism by memory. In one of his more magnimanimous efforts to live his faith, back in 1969, he wrote a letter to a judge in California asking that Robert Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, not receive the death penalty for killing his brother. Such mercy was appropriate, he wrote, because “my brother was a man of love and sentiment and compassion. He would not have wanted his death to be cause for the taking of another life,” he said, according to Amnesty Intenational.
Kennedy clearly has an ongoing commitment to his religious heritage, according to The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings, a 2003 book by Thomas Maier, a reporter for Newsday. “Just when you thought there was no way to write about the Kennedys from a new angle, Maier comes up with one,” an Amazon.comreview proclaims. “His take is to view the family through the green prism of Ireland and, by extension, to examine their relationship to the Roman Catholic Church. This makes for surprisingly fresh reading.”
Teddy’s religious values were shaped by his mother, who frequently read him the Sermon on the Mount at bedtime. President Bush frequently speaks of his religious beliefs and motivations. Senator Kennedy speaks of religion less often, but when asked, he does cite those early lessons as fueling his desire to create a compassionate society through public service and legislation.
By most accounts, his second marriage, to Victoria Reggie in 1992, has proven solid. She’s “an outgoing, intelligent woman not likely to repose in Kennedy’s ample shadow,” wrote The Washington Post in an early profile of her.
She’s an attorney, an Arab-American activist, and the president of Common Sense About Kids and Guns. Since Senator Kennedy has historically been such a strong supporter of Israel — his brother Robert was murdered by a Palestinian, and cited RFK’s support of Israel as a motivating factor — some have expressedshock that his wife’s heritage is Lebanese, and she has been a gentle advocate for a Palestinian homeland. Just goes to show how far dogma and stereotyped thinking gets you.