Today, I joined President Obama in honoring longtime Massachusetts Senator Teddy Kennedy at the dedication of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston. Here’s what I’ll always remember about my dear friend Teddy.
He was there for me.
When I was a freshman Senator, Teddy reached out to me and treated me like a younger brother. He was there for me when I lost my wife and daughter in 1972. He became my tutor, my guide. He introduced me to my new colleagues, most of whom I had never met before. He helped me secure assignments on important committees not usually available to freshman Senators. And he looked out for my sons Beau and Hunt — and later embraced my wife Jill and our daughter Ashley.
He believed in results, not arguments.
Teddy understood that to unlock the true potential of the United States Senate, you have to find middle ground. He also understood that consensus was arrived at from the cumulative effect of personal relationships built over time that generated trust, mutual respect, and comity.
Whether he was debating Senator Jim Eastland, the powerful anti-civil rights Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, or Barry Goldwater on the Vietnam War, or my good friend John McCain on issues of foreign policy — when the debate was over, Teddy would inevitably walk across the aisle to his colleague’s desk, shake his hand, and more often than not, they would together retire to the Senate Dining Room for a cup of coffee.
He was always gracious, never petty.
As a consequence, he raised everyone’s game — because it’s hard to be small when the person you’re debating is so magnanimous. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Michelangelo, who was at his heart a sculptor: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Teddy set a lot of folks free. He appealed to their better angels. That was Teddy. He set a high bar for fellow Senators, and he demanded no less of himself and his staff.
He was a Senate man.
Teddy and I served 32 years together on the Judiciary Committee. I watched him fight tooth and nail for equal justice for all, always with a deep belief in the indispensable, and independent, role of the federal judiciary to secure that justice. But what he really taught me was the meaning of John Adams’ observation that the Senate is the Colossus of our Constitution: “No Republic can ever be of any duration without a Senate; and a Senate deeply and strongly rooted; strong enough to bear up against all popular storms and passions.”
He was always optimistic.
Teddy believed in the instincts and capacities of the American people. He believed that if we listened to one another, anything was possible. Ultimately, that’s his true legacy — measured as a consequence of how we look at one another, and in turn, how we look at ourselves to establish trust and faith in an institution with the potential to make us all better.