Category: Archive

Echo Profile: Ever-ready Teddy

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Edward Kennedy might be in the final season of a long and storied political career. But as Congress gathers momentum in what promises to be a fractious fall session, the senior senator from Massachusetts has a new spring in his step.
Edward Moore Kennedy needs no introduction to Americans of a certain age. Younger voters, however, might have a hard time joining all the dots of a political career that has been matched only by an extraordinary, and, at times, highly controversial personal life.
But those same younger voters would be surprised as to how much of their America has been shaped by the political acumen and legislative prowess of a man who is, on the surface at least, only one of a hundred members of the most exclusive political club on earth.
Given the town he comes from, Boston Globe journalist Kevin Cullen can be forgiven for dipping into his bullpen of baseball metaphors when recently asked to describe Ted Kennedy, the 2005 version.
“He looks better than ever the last couple of years. People are saying that Teddy is really on his ballgame, sharper, and seems to have gained something on his fastball,” said Cullen.
“Ever,” in Kennedy’s case, amounts to a Senate career stretching back to 1962.
And many senators, past and present, would explain Kennedy’s political fastball in terms of a consistent ability — even when he is in the minority party — to shape the course of the Senate’s legislative thrust, often by reaching complex deals with the most unlikely of senatorial partners.
“Kennedy seems to be relishing the winter of his political years. He has been reinvigorated by the strength of the Republicans and not deflated at all by the (presidential) election of last year. Rather, he has been inflated by it,” Cullen said.
Talk of an inflated Ted Kennedy is apt to draw weight jokes from some people, but the youngest and lone survivor of the Kennedy brothers is looking trim enough these days.
This, however, is only incidental detail to ideological foes that have long seen in Ted Kennedy a living metaphor for government that is as Kennedy big as it is Kennedy liberal.
Still, though he might be a poster boy for the right’s view of all that is wrong with the left’s vision, Kennedy has worked a startling number of deals with fellow senators who would be expected to barely agree with him on the time of day.
Legislation exists in the books that bears the combined signatures of Kennedy and front line GOP names such as Jesse Helms, Bill Frist and of course John McCain, with whom Kennedy is currently attempting to rewrite U.S. immigration law.
Kennedy is a master of Capitol Hill’s very own version of English, “Hillspeak.” But he calls it plainly when he wants to.
Back in October of 2003 for example, Kennedy described the state of the nation’s immigration laws as a “national scandal” and compared the plight of millions of undocumented immigrants to that of slaves.
Given his own family’s immigrants roots, it’s no surprise that Kennedy has figured in every rehash of immigration law since the ground breaking 1965 reform act.
But his influence and imprint is to be found in just about every legislative area.
Irish Americans know him particularly well for being a go-to man on the Hill with regard to Northern Ireland since the earliest days of the troubles. Kennedy was one of the “Four Horsemen” along with Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Tip O’Neill and Hugh Carey.
These days, he is much more of a lone horse on the North.
But his views either reflect, or carry, the weight of pretty much the entire Congress.
To many observers, Kennedy’s cold shoulder to Gerry Adams earlier this year was more significant than the rebuff from the White House.
“Teddy called off that meeting himself. It wasn’t his advisors,” said the Globe’s Cullen.
Though he is typically viewed by both opponents and critics as conservatism’s bete noir, as a most partisan liberal Democrat, Kennedy has often been a flea in the ear of his own party.
“Kennedy has always been able to operate better when the other party has the White House,” said Jack Farrell, who covers Washington for the Denver Post and is the author of a widely acclaimed biography of Tip O’Neill.
But, said Farrell, Kennedy’s ability of focus, laser-like, on critical issues has also made him a frequent irritant to Democratic administrations.
“His knowledge of Senate rules, combined with his relationships with other senators, means he can spring surprises on the party in power though that ability is currently more diluted because of the size of the GOP majority,” said Farrell.
Kennedy — though he might be real life version of Senator Sempronius Gracchus as played by Charles Laughton in the movie “Spartacus,” — can be trumped by his rivals.
“He got his pocket picked by (President) Bush on the education issue,” said Farrell.
“But he was quite prescient on Iraq,” added Farrell, who believes that Kennedy, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, will be heard loud and clear during the upcoming debate over the two vacant seats on the Supreme Court.
Kennedy, said Farrell, is savvy enough not to get into real fights if he knows he can’t win them.
But no matter what the expected outcome, Kennedy will be sure to lay down his marker, Farrell said.
Kennedy, now 73, is up for reelection in 2006. He is currently second in seniority in the Senate to West Virginia’s 87-year-old Robert Byrd who, by virtue of being first elected in 1958, has a four-year start on his fellow Democrat.
But all the signs are that the lately svelte younger man will run for Massachusetts again next year, secure an eighth term, and thus launch himself towards a potential record-breaking 50 year career in the Senate.
“Think of a shark,” said Jack Farrell.
“Sharks need to keep swimming. Teddy’s like that.”

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