Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts was remembered Monday by the president, vice president, and senators from both parties as a powerful force for liberal causes who could also reach across the aisle.
Among the senators - past and present - who paid tribute to Ted Kennedy at the dedication of the new institute in his name was Trent Lott.
“Yes, a Republican from Mississippi,” he told the crowd gathered at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
Lott said he was proud to be there. Despite significant political differences between them during their careers, Lott serves on the board of Kennedy’s institute.
“We had some fiery discussions, but we came together many times in a bipartisan way to get a result for America. He knew how to give and take and get a result.”
The late Kennedy was remembered as someone who would forcefully argue with his fellow Senators on topics that were important to him, but who would then slap them on the back and go get coffee with them. Another Republican who frequently battled with the "Liberal Lion" was John McCain, who said he misses his friend.
“I miss fighting with him, to be honest. It’s gotten harder to find people who enjoyed a good fight as much as Ted did.”
McCain said the Senate would be a little more productive and a lot more fun if Kennedy were still there today.
For liberals like Senator Elizabeth Warren, Kennedy was something of a hero. She recounted a story of meeting Kennedy before she was a politician herself, when she was trying to win his support for changes to bankruptcy laws. She says Kennedy met with her for an hour and a half, and agreed to fight for the reform.
“I left his office, and I went out to the elevator bank, and put my head against the wall and I cried. Senator Kennedy changed my life that day. I hadn’t liked politics. All the lobbyists and cozy dealings and special favors for those who could buy access. But I stood in the lobby outside Ted Kennedy’s office, and I felt clean.”
Warren said Kennedy changed what she understood about public service.
“What it means to fight for working people, just because it’s the right thing to do,” she said.
Watch McCain, Warren, Biden and others (including Greater Boston host Jim Braude) pay tribute.
The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate sits on the UMass Boston campus on Dorchester's Columbia Point, next door to the presidential library of the late Senator's brother, President John F. Kennedy. At its center is a full-scale model of the Senate chamber, where students can engage and debate as they role-play as Senators. Vice President Joe Biden called the institute a fitting tribute to the late Kennedy.
“Let this place serve as a true compass, pointing toward his unyielding faith in the limitless possibilities of the American people and this country.”
President Obama used the occasion to reflect on Ted Kennedy’s ability to work across the aisle. He had one suggestion for current members of the Senate.
“What if we carried ourselves more like Ted Kennedy?”
Obama said today, fear permeates politics, instead of hope. But Kennedy, he said, understood the point of running for office is to get something done.
“For all the challenges of a changing world, for all the imperfections of our democracy, the capacity to reach across our differences is something that’s entirely up to us. May we all, in our own lives set an example for the kids who enter these doors and exit with higher expectations for their country.”
And those kids, he said, will go on to be the country’s future leaders.