A very sad day with the news of the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. Much has already been written and we will be seeing so much more in the days ahead. President Obama said it best:
"Even though we knew this day was coming, we awaited it with no small amount of dread. His extraordinary life on this earth has come to an end. The extraordinary good that he did lives on."
So I just want to add a few thoughts of my own. On a personal level, he was truly larger than life. One of those rare people who lit up a room just by entering it. He put his personal warmth and charm to work on Senators across the aisle for the issues that he believed in. I remember seeing him a few times at the Kennedy School and was always struck by his interest in other people. If he faked that smiled then he was a better actor than many in Hollywood. He literally lit up when he met people.
Back when I was a student at the Kennedy School, my good friend Joe and I were walking toward the school on JFK Street and doing what we would call "dueling Kennedys" impressions. I had the strangest feeling and turned around to see Ted himself walking a few feet behind us with one of his aides. I won't say I was embarrassed or anything, but my face turned so red several cars screeched to a stop! It's hard to say if he heard us or realized what we were doing but what are the odds?!
A number of years later, Laura and I were at a Harvard event and the Senator was entering a building off Harvard Yard. The media were there and there was a small crowd, but the atmosphere was for some inexplicable reason, very tight. No one was saying anything, and his face looked taut. Laura called out, "hey Ted, over here." He turned around and saw her and lit up with a big smile and a wave, and then the reporters and the crowd began calling out to him. He was now in his element and he was literally beaming as he relaxed visibly.
He was certainly not a perfect person, and indeed, his flaws threatened for years to over-ride his accomplishments. As the youngest in the family, his talents were over-shadowed by his high-achieving brothers and sisters, and so he knew he had so much to prove. In fact, he served longer in the Senate than any of his three brothers lived. So what stands out was his steadfast determination to make his life have meaning, and to make a difference for the less-fortunate.
On a political level no one was more partisan and vocal in his beliefs, yet he was renowned for his bipartisanship. That's how he was able to accomplish more legislatively than almost any other Senator in modern times.
His unsuccessful bid for the Presidency was marred by a disastrous interview that he agreed to do with Roger Mudd on CBS. As you will see, he couldn't seem to answer directly the question, 'why are you running for President?' What many didn't realize, however, was the interview was pre-taped prior to his announcement and he was clearly uncomfortable admitting he was running. He had been doubling President Carter's poll numbers prior to this broadcast, and they began to slip noticeably once it aired. Take a look:
With all the heat and anger surrounding the health care reform legislation, it's a perfect opportunity for Senators and Congressmen to display some of that bi-partisanship. Perhaps, given the timing of his passing, it could be a last gift from the Senator.
Until next time....