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Ted Kennedy, “liberal lion of the Senate,” dies at 77

Ted Kennedy, “liberal lion of the Senate,” dies at 77

On August 25, 2009, Edward “Ted” Kennedy, the youngest brother of President John F. Kennedy and a U.S. senator from Massachusetts from 1962 to 2009, dies of brain cancer at age 77 at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Kennedy, one of the longest-serving senators in American history, was a leader of the Democratic Party and a spokesman for liberal causes who also was known for his ability to work with those on both sides of the political aisle.

Edward Moore Kennedy was born in Boston on February 22, 1932, the youngest of nine children of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., a wealthy financier who served as the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and later as ambassador to Great Britain, and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, the daughter of a Boston politician. After serving in the U.S. Army in the early 1950s, Kennedy graduated from Harvard University in 1956 and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1959. While still a student, he managed his brother John’s successful 1958 re-election campaign to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts. Also in 1958, Ted Kennedy married Joan Bennett, with whom he later had three children. The couple divorced in 1982, and in 1992, Kennedy married Victoria Reggie, a Washington attorney with two children.

In November 1960, John Kennedy was elected America’s 35th president. The following month, a Kennedy family friend was appointed to fill the president-elect’s vacated Senate seat until a special election was held. In November 1962, Ted Kennedy, who earlier that year had turned 30, the minimum age requirement for a U.S. senator, won the special election in Massachusetts to serve out the remainder of his brother’s Senate term, ending in January 1965. Massachusetts voters re-elected Kennedy to the seat eight more times, in 1964, 1970, 1976, 1982, 1988, 1994, 2000 and 2006.

Kennedy came from privileged background, but his family was no stranger to tragedy. His oldest brother, Joseph Kennedy Jr., a Navy pilot, died in World War II, while his second-eldest sister, Kathleen, was killed in a 1948 plane crash. President John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. The following year, Ted Kennedy was seriously injured in a plane crash that left him hospitalized for six months. In 1968, U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy was also assassinated. With Robert’s death, Ted Kennedy became the family patriarch and a substitute father to his two slain brothers’ 13 children.

On July 18, 1969, Kennedy was involved in a controversial event that would mar the rest of his career, when he accidentally drove his car off a bridge on Massachusetts’ Chappaquiddick Island, killing his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, who drowned. Kennedy failed to report the incident to the authorities for nearly 10 hours, claiming the delay was due to the fact that he had suffered a concussion and was exhausted from attempting to rescue Kopechne. He later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended sentence. However, Kennedy was plagued by questions about his behavior, as well as his relationship with Kopechne, a former campaign worker for Robert Kennedy. He later referred to his actions as “inexcusable,” and said Kopechne’s death “haunts me every day of my life.”

In 1980, Kennedy made a failed bid against President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination. He never again ran for the White House, instead focusing on his work on Capitol Hill, where he was dubbed the “liberal lion of the Senate.” During his nearly 47-year-career in Washington, D.C., Kennedy successfully fought for legislation concerning education, immigration reform, health care, increases to the federal minimum wage, voting rights, various consumer protections and equal rights for minorities, the disabled, women and gay Americans. In foreign policy matters, he was an opponent of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, and a champion of human rights in such places as Africa and South America.

In May 2008, Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. That August, despite his poor health, he made a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in support of Barack Obama, whom he had endorsed for president.

After his death in August 2009, Kennedy was buried at Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery, near the graves of his brothers John and Robert.

READ MORE: Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick Incident: What Really Happened

Ted Kennedy, “liberal lion of the Senate,” dies at 77 - HISTORY

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate and haunted bearer of the Camelot torch after two of his brothers fell to assassins’ bullets, has died at his home in Hyannis Port after battling a brain tumor. He was 77.

For nearly a half-century in the Senate, Kennedy was a steadfast champion of the working class and the poor, a powerful voice on health care, civil rights, and war and peace. To the American public, though, he was best known as the last surviving son of America’s most glamorous political family, the eulogist of a clan shattered again and again by tragedy.

His family announced his death in a brief statement released early Wednesday.

“We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever,” the statement said. “We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all.”

Kennedy was elected to the Senate in 1962, when his brother John was president, and served longer than all but two senators in history. Over the decades, he put his imprint on every major piece of social legislation to clear the Congress.

His own hopes of reaching the White House were damaged – perhaps doomed – in 1969 by the scandal that came to be known as Chappaquiddick, an auto accident that left a young woman dead.

Kennedy – known to family, friends and foes simply as Ted – ended his quest for the presidency in 1980 with a stirring valedictory that echoed across the decades: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”

Kennedy learned he had a malignant tumor called a glioma after suffering a seizure on May 17, 2008, at his home in Hyannis Port. The prognosis was grim: Median survival for the worst form of gliomas is 12 to 15 months, although the time depends on the type of glioma.

His death late Tuesday comes just weeks after that of his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver on Aug. 11.

In recent weeks, Kennedy had spent most of his time at his Hyannis Port home with his family, appearing frail during his brief public appearances. He was too ill to attend the funeral of his sister. Nor could he make the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony when President Obama awarded him the country’s highest civilian honor.

The famed orator made only a handful of public statements since he was first stricken, including a surprise speech in August to the Democratic National Convention, a December address at his alma mater, Harvard University and brief remarks at the White House health care conference in March.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Kennedy’s son Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said his father had defied the predictions of doctors by surviving more than a year with his fight against brain cancer.

The younger Kennedy said that gave family members a surprise blessing, as they were able to spend more time with the senator and to tell him how much he had meant to their lives.

The younger Kennedy said his father’s legacy was built largely in the Senate.

“He has authored more pieces of major legislation than any other United States senator,” Patrick Kennedy said in the interview. “He is the penultimate senator. I don’t need to exaggerate when I talk about my father. That’s the amazing thing. He breaks all the records himself.”

Outside the Beltway

Senator Edward M. Kennedy died last night, aged 77, succumbing to brain cancer.

Edward Kennedy, Senate Stalwart, Dies (John Broder, NYT)

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a son of one of the most storied families in American politics, a man who knew triumph and tragedy in near-equal measure and who will be remembered as one of the most effective lawmakers in the history of the Senate, died late Tuesday night. He was 77.

The death of Mr. Kennedy, who had been battling brain cancer, was announced Wednesday morning in a statement by the Kennedy family, which was already mourning the death of the senator’s sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver two weeks earlier.

“Edward M. Kennedy — the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply — died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port,” the statement said. “We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever.”

“An important chapter in our history has come to an end,” President Obama said in a statement. “Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States senator of our time.”

Mr. Kennedy had been in precarious health since he suffered a seizure in May 2008. His doctors determined the cause had been a malignant glioma, a brain tumor that often carries a grim prognosis.

As he underwent cancer treatment, Mr. Kennedy was little seen in Washington, appearing most recently at the White House in April as Mr. Obama signed a national service bill that bears the Kennedy name. Last week Mr. Kennedy urged Massachusetts lawmakers to change state law and let Gov. Deval Patrick appoint a temporary replacement upon his death, to assure that the state’s representation in Congress would not be interrupted by a special election.

While Mr. Kennedy had been physically absent from the capital in recent months, his presence had been deeply felt as Congress weighed the most sweeping revisions to America’s health care system in decades, an effort Mr. Kennedy called “the cause of my life.”

Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy Dies at 77 After Cancer Battle (Joe Holley, WaPo)

Edward M. Kennedy, one of the most powerful and influential senators in American history and one of three brothers whose political triumphs and personal tragedies captivated the nation for decades, died late Tuesday at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., at age 77. He had been battling brain cancer.

His family announced his death in a brief statement released early Wednesday. “We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever,” the statement said. “We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all.”

President Obama released a statement Wednesday morning, pointing out that “virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts. . . . Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time. . . . Our hearts and prayers go out to” the Kennedy family.

Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, was the last male survivor of a privileged and charismatic family that in the 1960s dominated American politics and attracted worldwide attention. His sister, Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, died two weeks ago, also in Hyannis Port. One sibling, former U.S. ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith, is still alive.

As heir through tragedy to his accomplished older brothers — President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.), both of whom were assassinated — Edward Kennedy became the patriarch of his clan and a towering figure in the U.S. Senate to a degree neither of his siblings had been.

Kennedy served in the Senate through five of the most dramatic decades of the nation’s history. He became a lawmaker whose legislative accomplishments, political authority and gift for friendship across the political spectrum invited favorable comparisons to Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and a handful of other leviathans of the country’s most elite political body. But he was also beset by personal frailties and family misfortunes that were the stuff of tabloid headlines.

For years, many Democrats considered Kennedy’s own presidency a virtual inevitability. In 1968, a “Draft Ted” campaign emerged only a few months after Robert Kennedy’s death, but he demurred, realizing he was not prepared to be president.

Political observers considered him the candidate to beat in 1972, but that possibility came to an end on a night in July 1969, when the senator drove his Oldsmobile off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Mass., and a young female passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. The tragedy had a corrosive effect on Kennedy’s image, eroding his national standing. He made a dismal showing when he challenged President Jimmy Carter for reelection in 1980. But the moment of his exit from the presidential stage marked an oratorical highlight when, speaking at the Democratic National Convention, he invoked his brothers and promised: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on. The cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”

Kennedy dead at 77 (Martin Nolan, Boston Globe)

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who carried aloft the torch of a Massachusetts dynasty and a liberal ideology to the citadel of Senate power, but whose personal and political failings may have prevented him from realizing the ultimate prize of the presidency, died at his home in Hyannis Port last night after a battle with brain cancer. He was 77.

“We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever,” his family said in a statement. “We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness, and opportunity for all. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him.”

Overcoming a history of family tragedy, including the assassinations of a brother who was president and another who sought the presidency, Senator Kennedy seized the role of being a “Senate man.” He became a Democratic titan of Washington who fought for the less fortunate, who crafted unlikely deals with conservative Republicans, and who ceaselessly sought support for universal health coverage.

“Teddy,” as he was known to intimates, constituents, and even his fiercest enemies, was an unwavering symbol to the left and the right – the former for his unapologetic embrace of liberalism, and latter for his value as a political target. But with his fiery rhetoric, his distinctive Massachusetts accent, and his role as representative of one of the nation’s best-known political families, he was widely recognized as an American original. In the end, some of those who might have been his harshest political enemies, including former President George W. Bush, found ways to collaborate with the man who was called the “last lion” of the Senate.

Senator Kennedy’s White House aspirations may have been doomed by his actions on the night he drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick Island in 1969 and failed to promptly report the accident in which Mary Jo Kopechne, who had worked for his brother Robert, died. When Kennedy nonetheless later sought to wrest the presidential nomination from an incumbent Democrat, Jimmy Carter, he failed. But that failure prompted him to reevaluate his place in history, and he dedicated himself to fulfilling his political agenda by other means, famously saying, “the dream shall never die.”

Ted Kennedy Dies of Brain Cancer at Age 77 – ‘Liberal Lion’ of the Senate Led Storied Political Family After Deaths of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (ABC)

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Ted Kennedy died shortly before midnight Tuesday at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., at age 77.

The man known as the “liberal lion of the Senate” had fought a more than year-long battle with brain cancer, and according to his son had lived longer with the disease than his doctors expected him to.

“We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever,” the Kennedy family said in a statement. “He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it.”

Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy, the youngest Kennedy brother who was left to head the family’s political dynasty after his brothers President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.

Kennedy championed health care reform, working wages and equal rights in his storied career. In August, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — by President Obama. His daughter, Kara Kennedy, accepted the award on his behalf.

U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy dies at 77 – Liberal lion loses yearlong battle with brain cancer at Massachusetts home (NBC News/wire)

Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate and haunted bearer of the Camelot torch after two of his brothers fell to assassins’ bullets, has died at his home in Hyannis Port after battling a brain tumor. He was 77.

For nearly a half-century in the Senate, Kennedy was a steadfast champion of the working class and the poor, a powerful voice on health care, civil rights, and war and peace. To the American public, though, he was best known as the last surviving son of America’s most glamorous political family, the eulogist of a clan shattered again and again by tragedy.


Kennedy was elected to the Senate in 1962, when his brother John was president, and served longer than all but two senators in history. Over the decades, he put his imprint on every major piece of social legislation to clear the Congress.

His own hopes of reaching the White House were damaged — perhaps doomed — in 1969 by the scandal that came to be known as Chappaquiddick, an auto accident that left a young woman dead.

Kennedy — known to family, friends and foes simply as Ted — ended his quest for the presidency in 1980 with a stirring valedictory that echoed across the decades: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”


Nancy Reagan, the widow of President Ronald Reagan, was one of the first to speak out from the Republican Party.

“Given our political differences, people are sometimes surprised by how close Ronnie and I have been to the Kennedy family,” she said in a statement.

“But Ronnie and Ted could always find common ground, and they had great respect for one another. In recent years, Ted and I found our common ground in stem cell research, and I considered him an ally and a dear friend. I will miss him,” she said.

Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wife, Maria Shriver, was Kennedy’s niece, praised “the rock of our family: a loving husband, father, brother and uncle.”

That the Chappaquiddick scandal didn’t make the first several paragraphs — or even first page — of several of these obits is quite remarkable. It would be like writing an obit for Richard Nixon that didn’t mention Watergate or one for Michael Jackson that glossed over repeated allegations of pedophilia.

That said, Kennedy was obviously much more than his actions on the worst night of his life. While he could be incredibly partisan, even vitriolically so on some issues, he was almost universally acknowledged even by opponents as an honorable negotiating partner and an outstanding legislator.

Edward Kennedy dies at 77 ‘liberal lion of the Senate’

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy addresses the Democratic National Convention in New York City in August 1980. That year, he challenged President Carter, an unpopular incumbent, for the party’s presidential nomination. Kennedy failed to win the nomination, and Carter lost to Ronald Reagan.

“For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die,” Kennedy said in concluding his speech. (Los Angeles Times)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) stands next to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) before President Bush’s State of the Union speech on Jan. 28, 2008.

In endorsing Obama for president, Kennedy said: “He will be a president who refuses to be trapped in the patterns of the past. He is a leader who sees the world clearly without being cynical. He is a fighter, who cares passionately about the causes he believes in without demonizing those who hold a different view. He is tough-minded, but he also has an uncommon capacity to appeal to the better angels of our nature. I’m proud to stand with him here today and offer my help, offer my voice, offer my energy, my commitment to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States. “ (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat and icon of American liberal politics who was the last surviving brother of a legendary political family, died late Tuesday at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., his family announced. He was 77.

Kennedy obituary: The obituary of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) that appeared in Wednesday’s Section A incorrectly reported that his oldest brother, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., died when his airplane was shot down during World War II. The plane Joseph Kennedy was piloting over Europe was filled with explosives, which detonated before Kennedy and another crew member could bail out by parachute. The cause of the explosion was never conclusively determined. Additionally, the obituary said Edward Kennedy testified in the spring of 1991 at the trial of his nephew William Kennedy Smith, who was accused of rape. Kennedy took the stand in December 1991. Also, the article said Kennedy gave the eulogy at his brother Robert’s funeral in Washington it was in New York City. —

Kennedy had been in declining health since having a seizure in May 2008. Subsequent tests determined that he had a malignant brain tumor.

Kennedy had not been to the Capitol since April, missing the passage in June of his groundbreaking measure to regulate tobacco. In July, he could not participate in the drafting of healthcare legislation in his role as chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

He did not attend the funeral for his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died Aug. 11, or a White House ceremony during which he was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever,” his family said in a statement.

A popular figure on both sides of the aisle in the Senate, Kennedy electrified his colleagues in July 2008 when he appeared briefly to vote on a measure to stave off a cut in Medicare fees to doctors who treat seniors, military personnel and their families and others. The measure passed on a 69-30 vote.

Kennedy was greeted with a wild reception from the party faithful in August 2008 on the first night of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. He addressed the gathering in a strong, steady voice, predicting that “this November, the torch will be passed to a new generation of Americans,” a reference to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who was elected president three months later. Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama in January 2008 was credited as an important validation of the senator’s bid to win the nomination against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

“The Kennedy family and the Senate family have together lost our patriarch,” Harry Reid, the Senate’s Democratic leader, said in a statement.

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, also expressed her sorrow in a statement. “Senator Kennedy had a grand vision for America, and an unparalleled ability to effect change,” she said.

As the standard-bearer for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, the square-jawed “Ted” or “Teddy” Kennedy believed in government’s ability to help solve people’s problems, and over the decades he learned how to wield power in the Senate to move the government in that direction. He found numerous ways to work with Republican administrations and senators to fashion significant legislation on issues he cared deeply about.

Kennedy became a national figure after his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and presidential hopeful Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, were assassinated in the 1960s. Many Americans still yearned for a Kennedy who could occupy the White House, and they looked to the youngest of the Kennedy brothers to fulfill those hopes.

But his public image and political fortunes suffered an indelible stain on July 18, 1969, when he drove his Oldsmobile off a bridge into the water on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. He survived without serious injury, but his female passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, died. In a lapse of judgment that was never fully explained, Kennedy sought the help of friends and advisors and delayed reporting the accident to police for 10 hours.

Nothing he did afterward could wipe out the public memory of that lapse. Though he filled his life with decades of work for progressive causes, and though he became the beloved patriarch of his large and often troubled family, his behavior following the incident at Chappaquiddick still held the power to stun.

Partly because of lingering questions about his actions and his relationship with Kopechne, Kennedy did not run for president in 1972 and 1976. In 1980, apparently believing that enough time had passed, he launched a fierce primary challenge against unpopular President Jimmy Carter that roiled the Democratic Party. Republican Ronald Reagan defeated Carter handily in the general election.

After that last foray into presidential politics, Kennedy concentrated his efforts on the Senate, becoming one of that body’s most effective members.

Though his most cherished legislative goal of universal health insurance eluded him, Kennedy helped write a number of laws that ranged from making it easier for workers who change or lose jobs to keep their health insurance, to giving 18-year-olds the right to vote, to deregulating the airlines, helping lower airfares.

He several times spearheaded legislation to raise the minimum wage and, in the early 1970s, wrote the law creating Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to seniors. He was influential in reforming immigration laws and in expanding Head Start programs.

In 1982, he helped gain an extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and he was a principal sponsor of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which negated Supreme Court decisions that made it more difficult for minorities to win lawsuits charging job discrimination by employers. In 1990, he worked with then-Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) to gain passage of the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act giving disabled Americans greater access to employment, among other things. That same year, he was author of the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act providing funds for community healthcare and support services.

And every major education law passed since the 1960s bears Kennedy’s imprint, according to the National Education Assn., which gave Kennedy its highest award in 2000.

“Americans have so much affection for the Kennedy family, and they often fail to see past the legend and the celebrity,” the group’s then-president, Bob Chase, said at the time.

Through sheer energy and willingness to focus, Kennedy could challenge presidents and galvanize legislators of both parties around a given issue.

Following in the footsteps of his brother Robert, he was an early opponent of U.S. participation in the Vietnam War in the 1960s. In the 1970s, he criticized Carter’s energy policy. In 1987, he was central to the defeat of Reagan’s nomination of conservative Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court, delivering a powerful denunciation of the president’s choice on the Senate floor. He also fought Reagan over cuts to social programs and, in 1989, Kennedy denounced President George H.W. Bush’s incursion into Panama to oust strongman Manuel Noriega.

In 1993, Kennedy worked with newly elected President Bill Clinton to gain passage of a bill to allow employees to take time off from their jobs to care for a newborn child or deal with a family illness. And in 2001, he teamed with newly elected President George W. Bush to gain passage of the No Child Left Behind legislation to strengthen educational standards through increased testing and other federal incentives to local school districts.

No matter if the Democrats were in the majority or the minority, Kennedy remained activist and outspoken, sometimes berating the GOP for not addressing social issues.

Once asked what his best quality was as a legislator, he answered: “Persistence.”

“He deserves recognition not just as the leading senator of his time, but as one of the greats in [the Senate’s] history,” New York Times reporter Adam Clymer wrote in his 1999 biography of Kennedy.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the conservative Utah Republican who once described some of Kennedy’s legislation as “socialism in embryo,” said on the occasion of Kennedy’s 70th birthday celebration in 2002 that one of the reasons he had originally run for office was to get Kennedy out of office.

“As the past 26 years have amply indicated, I have failed, and I have come to appreciate that the country is better for it,” said Hatch, who over the years found common ground with Kennedy on education and health issues and even co-sponsored a bill to allow the creation of cloned embryos to provide stem cells under strict federal oversight.

Edward Moore Kennedy was born Feb. 22, 1932, in Brookline, Mass., to great wealth and even greater expectations. The youngest of nine children, he was the son of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., a self-made millionaire who descended from Irish immigrants and rose to become the U.S. ambassador to Britain. Ted’s mother, Rose, was the daughter of John F. “Honey” Fitzgerald, a former Boston mayor.

Though Kennedy’s life was privileged, it was filled with tragedy almost from the beginning. When he was 12, his brother Joe Jr., a Navy pilot, was shot down over England during World War II. When he was 16, one of his sisters, Kathleen, died in a plane crash. Earlier, when he was 9, his mentally retarded sister Rosemary was sent to an institution she died in 2005.

Kennedy went to Harvard University but as a freshman was expelled after having a friend take a Spanish exam for him.

This early indication of “blurred judgment,” Kennedy biographer Max Lerner wrote in 1980, set a pattern of “confusion, blunder, remorse, expiation, rebuilding, that was to be repeated on a larger canvas.” Significantly, Kennedy’s father was able to suppress the story from the newspapers until Ted ran for the Senate 11 years later.

After being expelled from Harvard, Kennedy enlisted in the Army, rising to private first class and winning an honorable discharge in 1953. He was accepted back at Harvard and graduated in 1956. He graduated from law school at the University of Virginia three years later.

Kennedy plunged into politics almost immediately, serving as campaign director for the Rocky Mountain states in John Kennedy’s 1960 drive for the presidency.

He then took a job as assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, Mass., and, in 1962, he ran against a prominent Democrat, state Atty. Gen. Edward McCormack, for the unexpired Senate term vacated when JFK won the presidency.

The campaign gave the younger Kennedy his first brush with political hardball: McCormack, a veteran politician and nephew of House Speaker John W. McCormack, portrayed his challenger as a lightweight who was trading on his family name.

“If your name was [merely] Edward Moore [instead of Edward Moore Kennedy], your candidacy would be a joke,” McCormack told him during a debate.

But Kennedy’s name was Kennedy, and he won the primary. He went on to beat Republican George Cabot Lodge, the son of former Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.

Kennedy arrived in the chamber at age 30, the minimum age required for a senator.

With one brother in the White House and another, Robert, as U.S. attorney general, it was not out of the realm of possibility at the time that there could be a run of three successive Presidents Kennedy.

Kennedy was in Washington when he received word that the president had been shot to death in Dallas. It was the beginning of another string of tragedies for the family.

On June 19, 1964, a private plane flying Kennedy from Washington to Springfield, Mass., crashed, killing an aide and the pilot. Kennedy sustained a broken back, forcing him to campaign for his first full Senate term from a hospital bed. He won the election with almost 75% of the vote.

Then, on June 5, 1968, his brother Robert, then a New York senator, was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on the night that he won the California Democratic presidential primary he died the next day. Kennedy delivered an eloquent, often-quoted eulogy at the funeral in Washington, praising his brother in a breaking voice as “a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”

After Richard M. Nixon narrowly won the presidency in 1968, Kennedy became the early favorite to mount a challenge four years later.

The accident at Chappaquiddick the following year crushed those ambitions. As Lerner wrote in “Ted and the Kennedy Legend: A Study in Character and Destiny” (1980), this self-inflicted wound, more than any other event, “blocked his path to the White House, called his credibility into question and damaged the Kennedy legend.” Kennedy had flown to Chappaquiddick that July 18 to sail in a regatta and later throw a party for six young women who had worked in Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Chappaquiddick is near Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the Massachusetts coast.

According to an account given by Kennedy in a televised speech carried nationwide a week after the accident, the party went on until the early hours. Kopechne, one of the campaign aides, wanted to go back to Martha’s Vineyard, where the group was staying. Kennedy volunteered to drive her to the ferry.

But, Kennedy recounted, he took a wrong turn and drove the car off a narrow wooden bridge and into a tidal pond. The car toppled over on its roof. Kennedy said he tried to rescue Kopechne and that he had suffered a “cerebral concussion as well as shock” in the accident, which might explain “the various inexplicable, inconsistent and inconclusive things I said and did,” including his failure to notify authorities for 10 hours. This delay, he said, was “indefensible.”

This explanation, doubted by many, came after Kennedy had been in seclusion for several hours after the accident with a large number of political and legal advisors. At the same time he made his statement, Kennedy also announced that he was pleading guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, for which he received a suspended two-month jail sentence and had his driving license taken away for a year. He put his political fate in the hands of his constituents.

The incident marked, as President Nixon privately gloated at the time, “the end of Teddy,” at least as a viable presidential foe. “That will be around his neck forever,” Nixon later told his White House chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman.

Kennedy surprised many by easily winning reelection to the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in 1970, albeit by a smaller margin than in 1964.

But, as Nixon predicted, Chappaquiddick would curtail further presidential aspirations, as his most serious attempt in the 1980 Democratic primary contest finally made clear.

Kennedy had tangled repeatedly with Carter over national health insurance and energy policy, but the decision to mount a liberal challenge to an incumbent Democrat was nevertheless startling.

And from the start, it was clear that Kennedy had miscalculated, that questions about Chappaquiddick would not go away.

Although he stayed in the race until the very end, he could claim nothing more than having damaged Carter’s chances against Reagan.

Kennedy turned his talents to the Senate. A master legislator, he seemed to reach his full potential in his continued efforts to champion the poor, abused and deprived. When his party was out of power in the Senate, Kennedy adjusted to being a member of the minority and, backed by one of the best congressional staffs in Washington, was able to get things done that others could not.

For example, in 1996, working in tandem with Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.), he pushed through legislation that guaranteed Americans the right to buy health insurance and limited the length of time that an insurer could deny coverage for a specific “preexisting” medical condition.

Also in 1996, Kennedy spearheaded legislation to raise the minimum wage, achieved largely because of his willingness to couple that liberal cause with a package of business tax cuts that Republicans favored.

In 1999, he sponsored and passed legislation to allow the handicapped to work without losing Medicaid health benefits. And he was one of the Senate authors of the “patients’ bill of rights.”

Though in 2000 he worked with President George W. Bush on strengthening education standards, Kennedy did not abandon the frayed banner of liberalism. In early 2002, he was one of only a handful of Democrats to openly call for repeal of parts of the Bush tax cuts enacted the previous year.

In the end, he would live decades longer than his brother John, who died at 46, and his brother Robert, who died at 42. Before and after his 24-year marriage to Joan Bennett ended in 1983, Kennedy had a well-earned reputation for drinking and carousing with women. In the spring of 1991, he was forced to testify in the trial of his 30-year-old nephew, William Kennedy Smith, who was charged with having raped a woman near the family beach house in Palm Beach, Fla., after a late-night drinking bout with his Uncle Ted at a local bar. Smith, the son of Kennedy’s sister Jean and her late husband, Stephen Smith, was acquitted.

In October 1991, Kennedy made a public apology of sorts at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, in which he said he recognized “the faults in the conduct of my private life.”

“I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them,” he said. Unlike his brothers, he said, he had been given “length of years and time,” and he said he was determined “to give all that I have to advance the causes for which I have stood for almost a third of a century.”

In 1992, Kennedy married Washington lawyer Victoria Reggie, a move that friends said settled and re-energized him. The 6-foot-2 senator kept more conventional work hours while also stepping up his work pace in the Senate.

“People measure me against my brothers’ ‘performance,’ ” Kennedy said in a 1983 New York Times interview. “It’s always been with me. But I like to believe that during the time I’ve been in the Senate that I’ve made some contribution. I take some satisfaction in that. My brothers were very much their own people. I like to think that I’m my own man.”

Besides his wife, Kennedy is survived by his daughter, Kara Kennedy Allen, his son Edward Jr. and another son, Patrick, who followed his father into politics, serving in the House representing Rhode Island. Kennedy also is survived by grandchildren and sister Jean Kennedy Smith.

Ted Kennedy, 'Lion of the Senate,' helped shape American politics

Edward "Ted" Kennedy of Massachusetts served in the U.S. Senate for 47 years.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After a losing presidential campaign, it became clear to Edward "Ted" Kennedy that his true calling was to help shape the country's political future from the U.S. Senate.

The turning point came in 1980 when Kennedy unsuccessfully challenged President Carter in the Democratic primaries.

But Kennedy's loss was not necessarily such a bad thing, a top political historian notes.

"I think partly it related to that time when he, after 1980, he realized that he was not going to be president of the United States . and that being a United States senator was a pretty important and powerful job in which he could do good," said Stephen Hess, author of "America's Political Dynasties."

Kennedy, 77, had represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate since his 1962 election when he was chosen to finish the unexpired Senate term of his brother, John F. Kennedy, who was elected president in 1960. The Massachusetts governor appointed Democrat Benjamin A. Smith to the seat following John Kennedy's presidential win.

Political observers have said that Smith was a mere seat warmer until Ted Kennedy turned 30 -- the required age to become a U.S. senator. Watch how the youngest Kennedy brother carried on the family torch »

"It's quite remarkable for a person who got there in 1962 at age 30 with no greater qualification for the office than his brother was president of the United States and the voters of Massachusetts respected that name," Hess said.

Don't Miss

And after nearly 50 years, Hess said Kennedy -- the patriarch of the first family of U.S. Democratic politics -- has truly "made a substantial mark." Learn more about Kennedy's funeral arrangements »

Deemed by many as the "Lion of the Senate," Kennedy was considered one of the most effective legislators of the past few decades, especially in his ability to cross party lines to get legislation passed.

In 2001, Kennedy helped President Bush craft and pass education legislation with the No Child Left Behind Act. While facing some criticism from his party, Kennedy pushed ahead on an issue close to his heart.

"Kennedy realized how much more you could do when you engaged the opposition party and wanted to make the compromises or the agreements that could keep the peace on legislation," Hess said.

Kennedy, Hess added, was good at coalition building because he was an engaging person who "owned the Senate."

Ted Sorensen, a speechwriter for President Kennedy, said that Ted Kennedy's legacy in the Senate "is comparable and consistent with the legacy of his entire family for generations."

That legacy, in addition to popularity among fellow senators, might be the reason why he had major roles in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act and the Kennedy-Hatch law of 1997.

In 1994, Kennedy was instrumental in helping the Clinton administration with its plan to overhaul health care. The legislation, maligned by Republicans and conservatives, later failed.

Fifteen years later, he continued his fight for comprehensive health care alongside the nation's first black president, Barack Obama.

Kennedy, an early supporter of Obama's presidential campaign, seemingly handed the torch down to Obama before the "Super Tuesday" Democratic primaries by likening the senator from Illinois to his brother, the late president.

But the man who spent much of his career helping others to get better health care, civil rights and education, now faced his own personal medical struggle -- the Kennedy patriarch had brain cancer.

As that news broke in 2008, his colleagues on both sides of the aisle not only prayed for his recovery but also honored Kennedy's legacy.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, released a statement saying, "Ted Kennedy has spent his life caring for those in need. Now it's time for those who love Ted and his family to care for them and join in prayer to give them strength."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said that while he "sparred a lot" with Kennedy, he knew "firsthand what a formidable fighter he is, and I know that he will do all he can to battle this disease."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called Kennedy "a legendary lawmaker, and I have the highest respect for him. . When we have worked together, he has been a skillful, fair and generous partner." iReport.com: Share tributes to Kennedy

McCain and Kennedy often worked together on legislation throughout the years -- most notably on overhauling the nation's immigration laws. Many observers said they believe legislation on the issue progressed as far as it did because Kennedy's name was on it.

But it has not always been an easy political road for Kennedy.

After a July 18, 1969, party for those who had worked on his late brother Robert's presidential campaign, Kennedy drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. Although he managed to escape, his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned.

Kennedy did not report the incident immediately and later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident.

The incident not only created a firestorm of controversy about the clout of the Kennedy family but also raised questions about the senator's honesty and judgment. The accident is something that opponents would use in future campaigns.

Ted Kennedy Dies at 77

Having beaten his doctors’ previous prognosis and living to help usher in a new American administration, Sen. Ted Kennedy succumbed to brain cancer late Tuesday night at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., at age 77. –KA

Like Sisyphus at the top of the hill, Kennedy died a king heartrendingly within view of his lifelong goal: health care for all. The squabbling over options and political maneuvering is all the more crass in this light. Kennedy had the purity of vision, the political genius and the heroic love of the downtrodden necessary to pass, at last, his magnum opus. He just didn’t have the body. –PS

ABC News:

The man known as the “liberal lion of the Senate” had fought a more than year-long battle with brain cancer, and according to his son had lived longer with the disease than his doctors expected him to.

“We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever,” the Kennedy family said in a statement. “He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it.”

Read more

Sen. Ted Kennedy dies at 77

By The Associated Press
Published August 26, 2009 1:26PM (EDT)

In this Oct. 25, 1990 file photo, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. talks to reporters at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has died after a yearlong battle with a brain tumor.


Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate and haunted bearer of the Camelot torch after two of his brothers fell to assassins' bullets, has died at his home in Hyannis Port after battling a brain tumor. He was 77.

For nearly a half-century in the Senate, Kennedy was a steadfast champion of the working class and the poor, a powerful voice on health care, civil rights, and war and peace. To the American public, though, he was best known as the last surviving son of America's most glamorous political family, the eulogist of a clan shattered again and again by tragedy.

His family announced his death in a brief statement released early Wednesday.

"We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," the statement said. "We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all."

Kennedy was elected to the Senate in 1962, when his brother John was president, and served longer than all but two senators in history. Over the decades, he put his imprint on every major piece of social legislation to clear the Congress.

His own hopes of reaching the White House were damaged -- perhaps doomed -- in 1969 by the scandal that came to be known as Chappaquiddick, an auto accident that left a young woman dead.

Kennedy -- known to family, friends and foes simply as Ted -- ended his quest for the presidency in 1980 with a stirring valedictory that echoed across the decades: "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."

The third-longest-serving senator in U.S. history, Kennedy was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in May 2008 and underwent surgery and a grueling regimen of radiation and chemotherapy.

His death late Tuesday comes just weeks after that of his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver on Aug. 11.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Kennedy's son Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said his father had defied the predictions of doctors by surviving more than a year with his fight against brain cancer.

The younger Kennedy said that gave family members a surprise blessing, as they were able to spend more time with the senator and to tell him how much he had meant to their lives.

The younger Kennedy said his father's legacy was built largely in the Senate.

"He has authored more pieces of major legislation than any other United States senator," Patrick Kennedy said in the interview. "He is the penultimate senator. I don't need to exaggerate when I talk about my father. That's the amazing thing. He breaks all the records himself."

Excerpts from Kennedy speeches:

For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

-- Addressing Democratic National Convention, August 1980.

My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.

--Eulogy for Robert F. Kennedy, June 1968.

With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion. With Barack Obama we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender, ethnic group against ethnic group, and straight against gay.

-- Endorsing Sen. Barack Obama for president, January 2008.

The more our feelings diverge, the more deeply felt they are, the greater is our obligation to grant the sincerity and essential decency of our fellow citizens on the other side. .

In short, I hope for an America where neither "fundamentalist" nor "humanist" will be a dirty word, but a fair description of the different ways in which people of good will look at life and into their own souls.

I hope for an America where no president, no public official, no individual will ever be deemed a greater or lesser American because of religious doubt -- or religious belief.

I hope for an America where the power of faith will always burn brightly, but where no modern inquisition of any kind will ever light the fires of fear, coercion, or angry division.

I hope for an America where we can all contend freely and vigorously, but where we will treasure and guard those standards of civility which alone make this nation safe for both democracy and diversity.

-- Speech on "Truth and Tolerance in America," Oct. 3, 1983, Lynchburg, Va.

Although my doctors informed me that I suffered a cerebral concussion, as well as shock, I do not seek to escape responsibility for my actions by placing the blame either on the physical and emotional trauma brought on by the accident, or on anyone else. I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately. .

It has been seven years since my first election to the Senate. You and I share many memories -- some of them have been glorious, some have been very sad. The opportunity to work with you and serve Massachusetts has made my life worthwhile.

And so I ask you tonight, the people of Massachusetts, to think this through with me. In facing this decision (whether to resign), I seek your advice and opinion. In making it, I seek your prayers -- for this is a decision that I will have finally to make on my own.

-- Statement to the People of Massachusetts on Chappaquiddick, July 25, 1969.

The great adventures which our opponents offer is a voyage into the past. Progress is our heritage, not theirs. What is right for us as Democrats is also the right way for Democrats to win.

The commitment I seek is not to outworn views but to old values that will never wear out. Programs may sometimes become obsolete, but the ideal of fairness always endures. Circumstances may change, but the work of compassion must continue. It is surely correct that we cannot solve problems by throwing money at them, but it is also correct that we dare not throw out our national problems onto a scrap heap of inattention and indifference. The poor may be out of political fashion, but they are not without human needs. The middle class may be angry, but they have not lost the dream that all Americans can advance together.

The demand of our people in 1980 is not for smaller government or bigger government but for better government. Some say that government is always bad and that spending for basic social programs is the root of our economic evils. But we reply: The present inflation and recession cost our economy 200 billion dollars a year. We reply: Inflation and unemployment are the biggest spenders of all.

-- Address to the Democratic National Convention, August 1980.

I was down at the White House this afternoon with some suggestions for the State of the Union address, but all I got from him was, "Are you still using that greasy kid stuff on your hair?"

-- Joking about his relationship with President John F. Kennedy shortly after joining the Senate.

Health Care Debate Will Miss Sen. Ted Kennedy

The liberal lion of the Senate had died. Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy was 77. He had been battling a brain tumor. His death comes as the Senate wrestles with overhauling the nation's health care system.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

And I'm Steve Inskeep. We've been listening this morning to the voice of Senator Edward Kennedy. The Massachusetts Democrat who had been battling brain cancer was 77 years old. In the United States Senate, Ted Kennedy found a different voice as a legislative dealmaker for decades. NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us now to talk about Kennedy's career.

KEN RUDIN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I suppose one way to mark the value of Ted Kennedy's presence is to note the importance of his absence. How have things been different in the health care debate in recent months because Ted Kennedy largely wasn't there?

RUDIN: Well, you know, Steve, I mean, it was a cause he worked for for much of his career, much of his life. It was something that meant so much to him, and obviously it meant so much to the Democratic Party. Apparently, he still worked the phones. He had a staff extremely involved in the negotiations.

Now the question, I guess, is would he have made a difference, with the rancor, the misinformation, the anger you've seen at these town hall meetings. Would that have gone away? Maybe not. But you know he wanted to be in the fight.

INSKEEP: Well, you do hear people saying if only Ted Kennedy were there, things would be different. And that does point to the value that people put on his legislative skill.

RUDIN: No question. You know, he's the third-longest senator - serving senator in history, behind Robert Byrd, who's still in the Senate, and Strom Thurmond. He was involved in every piece of social legislation since he first came to the Senate in 1962 - civil rights legislation, education policy, AIDS policy, the Family and Medical Leave Act. He fought the wars from the Senate in Vietnam and Iraq. He fought tax cuts. He battled against conservative Supreme Court nominees.

He also gave that critical endorsement of Barack Obama in last year's fight for the Democrat nomination in Obama's battle against Hillary Clinton. He had a role - a place in every piece of liberal legislation, social legislation for the past 45 years, (unintelligible).

INSKEEP: I'm also thinking, though, of ways that he worked with Republicans. His name was on Republican bills. He was a co-sponsor and a big leader in the No Child Left Behind initiative, which was President Bush's initiative. What was it about Ted Kennedy that made him - even though he was a liberal - made him able to work with Republicans and particularly Republican conservatives?

RUDIN: Well, that's probably the hallmark of Kennedy's career, because you're right. He absolutely was a liberal, the liberal lion of the Senate, we keep hearing. And yet he wanted legislation passed. He would be willing to compromise. And the Republicans like Sam Brownback, like Orrin Hatch, like John McCain, like former President Bush, who all had tremendously complimentary things to say about him - there's no question that he was, you know, strong on the left, a true liberal. And yet he wanted to accomplish things and he worked with Republicans to make sure they happened.

INSKEEP: Orrin Hatch seemed to think that he could make a deal because he was such a great liberal, he could deliver liberal interests and he could persuade them that it was worth compromising.

RUDIN: Well, there's a lot of Democrats who are out there who basically are saddened by the fact that Barack Obama perhaps is not more closely involved in health care legislation, things like that, and they feel that if Ted Kennedy were stronger - of course, if he were still alive - he would be fighting for those things, and perhaps they would be far more advanced than it has turned out so far.

INSKEEP: Ken, thanks very much.

INSKEEP: That's NPR political editor Ken Rudin. And, again, Ted Kennedy has died at 77.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR&rsquos programming is the audio record.


Edward Moore Kennedy was born on February 22, 1932, at St. Margaret's Hospital in the Dorchester section of Boston, Massachusetts. [2] He was the youngest of the nine children of Joseph Patrick Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald, members of prominent Irish American families in Boston, [2] who constituted one of the wealthiest families in the nation once they were joined. [3] His eight siblings were Joseph Jr., John, Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia, Robert, and Jean. John asked to be the newborn's godfather, a request his parents honored, though they did not agree to his request to name the baby George Washington Kennedy (Ted was born on President George Washington's 200th birthday) and instead named him after their father's assistant. [4]

As a child, Ted was frequently uprooted by his family's moves among Bronxville, New York Hyannis Port, Massachusetts Palm Beach, Florida and the Court of St. James's, in London, England. [5] [6] His formal education started at Gibbs School in Kensington, London. [7] He had attended ten schools by the age of eleven this was a series of disruptions that interfered with his academic success. [8] He was an altar boy at the St. Joseph's Church and was seven when he received his First Communion from Pope Pius XII in the Vatican. [9] He spent sixth and seventh grades at the Fessenden School, where he was a mediocre student, [2] and eighth grade at Cranwell Preparatory School both schools located in Massachusetts. [5] He was the youngest child and his parents were affectionate towards him, but they also compared him unfavorably with his older brothers. [2]

Between the ages of eight and sixteen, Ted suffered the traumas of Rosemary's failed lobotomy and the deaths of Joseph Jr. in World War II and Kathleen in an airplane crash. [2] Ted's affable maternal grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald, was the Mayor of Boston, a U.S. Congressman, and an early political and personal influence. [2] Ted spent his four high-school years at Milton Academy, a preparatory school in Milton, Massachusetts, where he received B and C grades and, in 1950, finished 36th in a graduating class of 56. [10] He did well at football there, playing on the varsity in his last two years the school's headmaster later described his play as "absolutely fearless . he would have tackled an express train to New York if you asked . he loved contact sports". [10] Kennedy also played on the tennis team and was in the drama, debate, and glee clubs. [10]

Like his father and brothers before him, Ted graduated from Harvard College. [11] In his spring semester, he was assigned to the athlete-oriented Winthrop House, where his brothers had also lived. [11] He was an offensive and defensive end on the freshman football team his play was characterized by his large size and fearless style. [2] In his first semester, Kennedy and his classmates arranged to copy answers from another student during the final examination for a science class. [12] At the end of his second semester in May 1951, Kennedy was anxious about maintaining his eligibility for athletics for the next year, [2] and he had a classmate take his place at a Spanish exam. [13] [14] The ruse was immediately discovered and both students were expelled for cheating. [13] [15] In a standard Harvard treatment for serious disciplinary cases, they were told they could apply for readmission within a year or two if they demonstrated good behavior during that time. [13] [16]

In June 1951, Kennedy enlisted in the United States Army and signed up for an optional four-year term that was shortened to the minimum of two years after his father intervened. [13] Following basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, he requested assignment to Fort Holabird in Maryland for Army Intelligence training, but was dropped without explanation after a few weeks. [13] He went to Camp Gordon in Georgia for training in the Military Police Corps. [13] In June 1952, Kennedy was assigned to the honor guard at SHAPE headquarters in Paris, France. [2] [13] His father's political connections ensured that he was not deployed to the ongoing Korean War. [2] [17] While stationed in Europe, he traveled extensively on weekends and climbed the Matterhorn in the Pennine Alps. [18] After 21 months, he was discharged in March 1953 as a private first class. [13] [18]

Kennedy re-entered Harvard in the summer of 1953 and improved his study habits. [2] His brother John was a U.S. Senator and the family was attracting more public attention. [19] Ted joined The Owl final club in 1954 [20] and was also chosen for the Hasty Pudding Club and the Pi Eta fraternity. [21] Kennedy was on athletic probation during his sophomore year, and he returned as a second-string two-way end for the Crimson football team during his junior year and barely missed earning his varsity letter. [22] Nevertheless, he received a recruiting feeler from Green Bay Packers head coach Lisle Blackbourn, who asked him about his interest in playing professional football. [23] Kennedy demurred, saying he had plans to attend law school and to "go into another contact sport, politics." [24] In his senior season of 1955, Kennedy started at end for the Harvard football team and worked hard to improve his blocking and tackling to complement his 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m), 200 lb (91 kg) size. [18] In the season-ending Harvard-Yale game in the snow at the Yale Bowl on November 19 (which Yale won 21–7), Kennedy caught a pass to score Harvard's only touchdown [25] the team finished the season with a 3–4–1 record. [26] Academically, Kennedy received mediocre grades for his first three years, improved to a B average for his senior year, and finished barely in the top half of his class. [27] Kennedy graduated from Harvard at age 24 in 1956 with an AB in history and government. [27]

Due to his low grades, Kennedy was not accepted by Harvard Law School. [16] He instead followed his brother Bobby and enrolled in the University of Virginia School of Law in 1956. [2] That acceptance was controversial among faculty and alumni, who judged Kennedy's past cheating episodes at Harvard to be incompatible with the University of Virginia's honor code it took a full faculty vote to admit him. [28] Kennedy also attended The Hague Academy of International Law during one summer. [29] At Virginia, Kennedy felt that he had to study "four times as hard and four times as long" as other students to keep up with them. [30] He received mostly C grades [30] and was in the middle of the class ranking, but was the winner of the prestigious William Minor Lile Moot Court Competition. [2] [31] He was elected head of the Student Legal Forum and brought many prominent speakers to the campus via his family connections. [32] While there, his questionable automotive practices were curtailed when he was charged with reckless driving and driving without a license. [2] While attending law school, he was officially named as manager of his brother John's 1958 Senate re-election campaign Ted's ability to connect with ordinary voters on the street helped bring a record-setting victory margin that gave credibility to John's presidential aspirations. [33] Ted graduated from law school in 1959. [32]

In October 1957 (early in his second year of law school), Kennedy met Joan Bennett at Manhattanville College they were introduced after a dedication speech for a gymnasium that his family had donated at the campus. [34] [35] Bennett was a senior at Manhattanville and had worked as a model and won beauty contests, but she was unfamiliar with the world of politics. [34] After the couple became engaged, she grew nervous about marrying someone she did not know that well, but Joe Kennedy insisted that the wedding should proceed. [34] The couple was married by Cardinal Francis Spellman on November 29, 1958, at St. Joseph's Church in Bronxville, New York, [2] [18] with the reception being held at the nearby Siwanoy Country Club. [36] Ted and Joan had three children: Kara (1960–2011), Ted Jr. (b. 1961) and Patrick (b. 1967). By the 1970s, the marriage was in trouble due to Ted's infidelity and Joan's growing alcoholism.

Kennedy was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1959. [37] In 1960, his brother John announced his candidacy for President of the United States and Ted managed his campaign in the Western states. [2] Ted learned to fly and during the Democratic primary campaign he barnstormed around the western states, meeting with delegates and bonding with them by trying his hand at ski jumping and bronc riding. [18] The seven weeks he spent in Wisconsin helped his brother win the first contested primary of the season there and a similar time spent in Wyoming was rewarded when a unanimous vote from that state's delegates put his brother over the top at the 1960 Democratic National Convention. [38]

Following his victory in the presidential election, John resigned from his seat as U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, but Ted was not eligible to fill the vacancy until his thirtieth birthday on February 22, 1962. [39] Ted initially wanted to stay out west and do something other than run for office right away he said, "The disadvantage of my position is being constantly compared with two brothers of such superior ability." [40] Ted's brothers were not in favor of his running immediately, but Ted ultimately coveted the Senate seat as an accomplishment to match his brothers, and their father overruled them. [18] Therefore, John asked Massachusetts Governor Foster Furcolo to name Kennedy family friend Ben Smith as interim senator for John's unexpired term, which he did in December 1960. [41] This kept the seat available for Ted. [18]

Meanwhile, Ted started work in February 1961 as an assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, Massachusetts (for which he took a nominal $1 salary), where he first developed a hard-nosed attitude towards crime. [42] He took many overseas trips, billed as fact-finding tours with the goal of improving his foreign policy credentials. [42] [43] [44] On a nine-nation Latin American trip in 1961, FBI reports from the time showed Kennedy meeting with Lauchlin Currie, an alleged former Soviet spy, together with locals in each country whom the reports deemed left-wingers and Communist sympathizers. [44] [45] Reports from the FBI and other sources had Kennedy renting a brothel and opening up bordellos after hours during the tour. [44] [45] [46] The Latin American trip helped to formulate Kennedy's foreign policy views, and in subsequent Boston Globe columns he warned that the region might turn to Communism if the U.S. did not reach out to it in a more effective way. [44] [46] Kennedy also began speaking to local political clubs and organizations. [40]

In the 1962 U.S. Senate special election in Massachusetts, Kennedy initially faced a Democratic Party primary challenge from Edward J. McCormack Jr., the state Attorney General. Kennedy's slogan was "He can do more for Massachusetts", the same one John had used in his first campaign for the seat ten years earlier. [47] McCormack had the support of many liberals and intellectuals, who thought Kennedy inexperienced and knew of his suspension from Harvard, a fact which later became public during the race. [40] Kennedy also faced the notion that with one brother President and another U.S. Attorney General, "Don't you think that Teddy is one Kennedy too many?" [18] But Kennedy proved to be an effective street-level campaigner. [18] In a televised debate, McCormack said "The office of United States Senator should be merited, and not inherited," and said that if his opponent's name was Edward Moore, not Edward Moore Kennedy, his candidacy "would be a joke". [40] Voters thought McCormack's performance overbearing, and with the family political machine's finally getting fully behind him, Kennedy won the September 1962 primary by a two-to-one margin. [18] In the November special election, Kennedy defeated Republican George Cabot Lodge II, product of another noted Massachusetts political family, gaining 55 percent of the vote. [18] [48]

First years, brothers' assassinations

Kennedy was sworn into the Senate on November 7, 1962. [49] He maintained a deferential attitude towards the older, seniority-laden Southern members when he first entered the Senate, avoiding publicity and focusing on committee work and local issues. [50] [51] Compared to his brothers in office, he lacked John's sophistication and Robert's intense, sometimes grating drive, but was more affable than either of them. [50] He was favored by Senator James Eastland, chair of the powerful Judiciary Committee. Vice President Lyndon Johnson, despite his feuds with John and Robert Kennedy, liked Ted and told close aides that he “had the potential to be the best politician in the whole family.” [52]

On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was presiding over the Senate—a task given to junior members—when an aide rushed in to tell him that his brother, President Kennedy, had been shot. His brother Robert soon told him that the President was dead. [40] Ted and his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver immediately flew to the family home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, to give the news to their invalid father, who had been afflicted by a stroke suffered two years earlier. [40]

On June 19, 1964, Kennedy was a passenger in a private Aero Commander 680 airplane that was flying in bad weather from Washington to Massachusetts. The plane crashed into an apple orchard in the western Massachusetts town of Southampton on the final approach to the Barnes Municipal Airport in Westfield. [53] [54] The pilot and Edward Moss (one of Kennedy's aides) were killed. [55] Kennedy was pulled from the wreckage by fellow Senator Birch Bayh, [53] and spent months in a hospital recovering from a severe back injury, a punctured lung, broken ribs and internal bleeding. [40] He suffered chronic back pain for the rest of his life as a result of the accident. [56] [57] Kennedy took advantage of his long convalescence to meet with academics and study issues more closely, and the hospital experience triggered his lifelong interest in the provision of health care services. [40] His wife Joan did the campaigning for him in the regular 1964 U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts, [40] and he defeated his Republican opponent by a three-to-one margin. [48]

Kennedy was walking with a cane when he returned to the Senate in January 1965. [40] He employed a stronger and more effective legislative staff. [40] He took on President Lyndon B. Johnson and almost succeeded in amending the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to explicitly ban the poll tax at the state and local level (rather than just directing the Attorney General to challenge its constitutionality there), [40] [58] thereby gaining a reputation for legislative skill. [59] He was a leader in pushing through the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended a quota system based upon national origin. He also played a role in the creation of the National Teachers Corps. [40] [60]

Following in the Cold Warrior path of his fallen brother, Kennedy initially said he had "no reservations" about the expanding U.S. role in the Vietnam War and acknowledged that it would be a "long and enduring struggle". [59] Kennedy held hearings on the plight of refugees in the conflict, which revealed that the U.S. government had no coherent policy for refugees. [61] Kennedy also tried to reform "unfair" and "inequitable" aspects of the draft. [59] By the time of a January 1968 trip to Vietnam, Kennedy was disillusioned by the lack of U.S. progress, and suggested publicly that the U.S. should tell South Vietnam, "Shape up or we're going to ship out." [62]

Ted initially advised his brother Robert against challenging the incumbent President Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic nomination in the 1968 presidential election. [40] Once Eugene McCarthy's strong showing in the New Hampshire primary led to Robert's presidential campaign starting in March 1968, Ted recruited political leaders for endorsements to his brother in the western states. [40] [63] Ted was in San Francisco when his brother Robert won the crucial California primary on June 4, 1968, and then after midnight, Robert was shot in Los Angeles and died a day later. [40] Ted Kennedy was devastated by his brother's death, as he was closest to Robert among those in the Kennedy family. [64] [ page needed ] Kennedy aide Frank Mankiewicz said of seeing Ted at the hospital where Robert lay mortally wounded: "I have never, ever, nor do I expect ever, to see a face more in grief." [40] At Robert's funeral, Kennedy eulogized his older brother:

My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not." [65]

At the chaotic August 1968 Democratic National Convention, Mayor of Chicago Richard J. Daley and some other party factions feared that Hubert Humphrey could not unite the party, and so encouraged Ted Kennedy to make himself available for a draft. [40] [66] The 36-year-old Kennedy was seen as the natural heir to his brothers, [47] and "Draft Ted" movements sprang up from various quarters and among delegates. [66] [67] Thinking that he was only being seen as a stand-in for his brother and that he was not ready for the job himself, and getting an uncertain reaction from McCarthy and a negative one from Southern delegates, Kennedy rejected any move to place his name before the convention as a candidate for the nomination. [66] [67] He also declined consideration for the vice-presidential spot. [50] George McGovern remained the symbolic standard-bearer for Robert's delegates instead.

After the deaths of his brothers, Kennedy took on the role of a surrogate father for his 13 nephews and nieces. [68] [69] By some reports, he also negotiated the October 1968 marital contract between Jacqueline Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis. [70]

Following Republican Richard Nixon's victory in November, Kennedy was widely assumed to be the front-runner for the 1972 Democratic nomination. [71] In January 1969, Kennedy defeated Louisiana Senator Russell B. Long by a 31–26 margin to become Senate Majority Whip, the youngest person to attain that position. [50] [72] While this further boosted his presidential image, he also appeared conflicted by the inevitability of having to run for the position [69] [71] "Few who knew him doubted that in one sense he very much wanted to take that path", Time magazine reported, but "he had a fatalistic, almost doomed feeling about the prospect". The reluctance was in part due to the danger Kennedy reportedly observed, "I know that I'm going to get my ass shot off one day, and I don't want to." [73] [74] Indeed, there were a constant series of death threats made against Kennedy for much of the rest of his career. [75]

Chappaquiddick incident

On the night of July 18, 1969, Kennedy was at Chappaquiddick Island on the eastern end of Martha's Vineyard. He was hosting a party for the Boiler Room Girls, a group of young women who had worked on his brother Robert's ill-fated 1968 presidential campaign. [71] Kennedy left the party with one of the women, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne.

Driving a 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88, he attempted to cross the Dike Bridge, which did not have a guardrail at that time. Kennedy lost control of his vehicle and crashed in the Poucha Pond inlet, which was a tidal channel on Chappaquiddick Island. Kennedy escaped from the overturned vehicle, and, by his description, dove below the surface seven or eight times, vainly attempting to reach and rescue Kopechne. Ultimately, he swam to shore and left the scene, with Kopechne still trapped inside the vehicle. Kennedy did not report the accident to authorities until the next morning, by which time Kopechne's body had already been discovered. [71] Kennedy's cousin Joe Gargan later said that both he and Kennedy's friend Paul Markham, both of whom were at the party and came to the scene, had urged Kennedy to report it at the time. [76]

A week after the incident, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and was given a suspended sentence of two months in jail. [71] That night, he gave a national broadcast in which he said, "I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately," but he denied driving under the influence of alcohol and also denied any immoral conduct between him and Kopechne. [71] Kennedy asked the Massachusetts electorate whether he should stay in office or resign after getting a favorable response in messages sent to him, Kennedy announced on July 30 that he would remain in the Senate and run for re-election the next year. [77]

In January 1970, an inquest into Kopechne's death was held in Edgartown, Massachusetts. [71] At the request of Kennedy's lawyers, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered the inquest to be conducted in secret. [71] [78] [79] The presiding judge, James A. Boyle, concluded that some aspects of Kennedy's story of that night were not true, and that negligent driving "appears to have contributed" to the death of Kopechne. [79] A grand jury on Martha's Vineyard conducted a two-day investigation in April 1970 but issued no indictment, after which Boyle made his inquest report public. [71] Kennedy deemed its conclusions "not justified." [71] Questions about the Chappaquiddick incident generated a large number of articles and books during the following years. [80]


At the end of 1968, Kennedy had joined the new Committee for National Health Insurance at the invitation of its founder, United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther. [81] [82] In May 1970, Reuther died and Senator Ralph Yarborough, chairman of the full Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee and its Health subcommittee, lost his primary election, propelling Kennedy into a leadership role on the issue of national health insurance. [83] Kennedy introduced a bipartisan bill in August 1970 for single-payer universal national health insurance with no cost sharing, paid for by payroll taxes and general federal revenue. [84]

Despite the Chappaquiddick controversy of the previous year, Kennedy easily won re-election to another term in the Senate in November 1970 with 62 percent of the vote against underfunded Republican candidate Josiah Spaulding, although he received about 500,000 fewer votes than in 1964. [80]

In January 1971, Kennedy lost his position as Senate Majority Whip to Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, 31–24. [85] He would later tell Byrd that the defeat was a blessing, as it allowed him to focus more on issues and committee work, where his best strengths lay [86] and where he could exert influence independently from the Democratic party apparatus, [87] and began a decade as chairman of the Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee.

In February 1971, President Nixon proposed health insurance reform—an employer mandate to offer private health insurance if employees volunteered to pay 25 percent of premiums, federalization of Medicaid for the poor with dependent minor children, and support for health maintenance organizations. [88] [89] Hearings on national health insurance were held in 1971, but no bill had the support of House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committee chairmen Representative Wilbur Mills and Senator Russell Long. [88] [90] Kennedy sponsored and helped pass the limited Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973. [89] [91] He also played a leading role, with Senator Jacob Javits, in the creation and passage of the National Cancer Act of 1971. [92]

In October 1971, Kennedy made his first speech about The Troubles in Northern Ireland: he said that "Ulster is becoming Britain's Vietnam", advocating for the withdrawal of British troops from the six northern counties, called for a united Ireland, [93] and declared that Ulster Unionists who could not accept this "should be given a decent opportunity to go back to Britain" (a position he backed away from within a couple of years). [94] Kennedy was sharply criticised by the British and Ulster unionists, and he formed a long political relationship with Social Democratic and Labour Party founder John Hume. [93] In scores of anti-war speeches, Kennedy opposed President Richard Nixon's policy of Vietnamization, calling it "a policy of violence [that] means more and more war". [80] In December 1971, Kennedy strongly criticized the Nixon administration's support for Pakistan and its ignoring of "the brutal and systematic repression of East Bengal by the Pakistani army". [95] He traveled to India and wrote a report on the plight of the 10 million Bengali refugees. [96] In February 1972, Kennedy flew to Bangladesh and delivered a speech at the University of Dhaka, where a killing rampage had begun a year earlier. [96]

The death of Mary Jo Kopechne in the Chappaquiddick incident had greatly hindered Kennedy's future presidential prospects, [73] and shortly after the incident he declared that he would not be a candidate in the 1972 U.S. presidential election. [71] Nevertheless, polls in 1971 suggested he could win the nomination if he tried, and Kennedy gave some thought to running. In May of that year he decided not to, saying he needed "breathing time" to gain more experience and to take care of the children of his brothers and that in sum, "It feels wrong in my gut." [97] Nevertheless, in November 1971, a Gallup Poll still had him in first place in the Democratic nomination race with 28 percent. [98] George McGovern was close to clinching the Democratic nomination in June 1972, when various anti-McGovern forces tried to get Kennedy to enter the contest at the last minute, but he declined. [99] At the 1972 Democratic National Convention, McGovern repeatedly tried to recruit Kennedy as his vice presidential running mate, but Kennedy turned him down. [99] When McGovern's choice of Thomas Eagleton stepped down soon after the convention, McGovern again tried to get Kennedy to take the nod, again without success. [99] McGovern instead chose Kennedy's brother-in-law Sargent Shriver.

In 1973, Kennedy's 12-year-old son Edward Kennedy Jr., was diagnosed with bone cancer his leg was amputated and he underwent a long, difficult, experimental two-year drug treatment. [71] [100] The case brought international attention among doctors and in the general media, [100] as did the young Kennedy's return to the ski slopes half a year later. [101] Son Patrick was suffering from severe asthma attacks. [71] The pressure of the situation mounted on Joan Kennedy. On several occasions, she entered facilities for treatment of alcoholism and emotional strain. In addition, she was arrested for drunk driving after a traffic accident. [71] [102]

In February 1974, President Nixon proposed more comprehensive health insurance reform—an employer mandate to offer private health insurance if employees volunteered to pay 25 percent of premiums, replacement of Medicaid by state-run health insurance plans available to all with income-based premiums and cost sharing, and replacement of Medicare with a new federal program that eliminated the limit on hospital days, added income-based out-of-pocket limits, and added outpatient prescription drug coverage. [103] [104] In April 1974, Kennedy and Mills introduced a bill for near-universal national health insurance with benefits identical to the expanded Nixon plan—but with mandatory participation by employers and employees through payroll taxes—both plans were criticized by labor, consumer, and senior citizen organizations because of their substantial cost sharing. [103] [105] In August 1974, after Nixon's resignation and President Ford's call for health insurance reform, Mills tried to advance a compromise based on Nixon's plan—but with mandatory participation by employers and employees through premiums to private health insurance companies—but gave up when unable to get more than a 13–12 majority of his committee to support his compromise plan. [103] [106]

In the wake of the Watergate scandal, Kennedy pushed campaign finance reform he was a leading force behind passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act Amendments of 1974, which set contribution limits and established public financing for presidential elections. [107] [108] In April 1974, Kennedy travelled to the Soviet Union, where he met with leader Leonid Brezhnev and advocated a full nuclear test ban as well as relaxed emigration, gave a speech at Moscow State University, met with Soviet dissidents, and secured an exit visa for famed cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. [109] Kennedy's Subcommittee on Refugees and Escapees continued to focus on Vietnam, especially after the Fall of Saigon in 1975. [80]

Kennedy had initially opposed busing schoolchildren across racial lines, but grew to support the practice as it became a focal point of civil rights efforts. [110] After federal judge W. Arthur Garrity ordered the Boston School Committee in 1974 to racially integrate Boston's public schools via busing, Kennedy made a surprise appearance at a September 1974 anti-busing rally in City Hall Plaza to express the need for peaceful dialogue and was met with extreme hostility. [110] [111] The predominantly white crowd yelled insults about his children and hurled tomatoes and eggs at him as he retreated into the John F. Kennedy Federal Building and went so far as to push against one of its glass walls and break it. [110] [111]

Kennedy was again much talked about as a contender in the 1976 U.S. presidential election, with no strong front-runners among the other possible Democratic candidates. [112] Kennedy's concerns about his family were strong, and Chappaquiddick was still in the news, with The Boston Globe, The New York Times Magazine, and Time magazine all reassessing the incident and raising doubts about Kennedy's version of events. [71] [113] [114] In September 1974, Kennedy announced that for family reasons he would not run in the 1976 election, declaring that his decision was "firm, final, and unconditional." [112] The eventual Democratic nominee, Jimmy Carter, built little by way of a relationship with Kennedy during his primary campaign, the convention, or the general election campaign. [115] Kennedy was up for Senate re-election in 1976. He defeated a primary challenger who was angry at his support for school busing in Boston. Kennedy then won the general election with 69 percent of the vote. [115]

The Carter administration years were difficult for Kennedy he had been the most important Democrat in Washington ever since his brother Robert's death, but now Carter was, and Kennedy at first did not have a full committee chairmanship with which to wield influence. [116] Carter in turn sometimes resented Kennedy's status as a political celebrity. [4] Despite generally similar ideologies, their priorities were different. [116] [117] Kennedy expressed to reporters that he was content with his congressional role and viewed presidential ambitions as almost far-fetched. [118]

Kennedy and his wife Joan separated in 1977, although they still staged joint appearances at some public events. [119] He held Health and Scientific Research Subcommittee hearings in March 1977 that led to public revelations of extensive scientific misconduct by contract research organizations, including Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories. [120] [121] [122] Kennedy visited China on a goodwill mission in late December 1977, meeting with leader Deng Xiaoping and eventually gaining permission for a number of Mainland Chinese nationals to leave the country in 1978, he also visited the Soviet Union and Brezhnev and dissidents there again. [123] During the 1970s, Kennedy also showed interest in nuclear disarmament, and as part of his efforts in this field even visited Hiroshima in January 1978 and gave a public speech to that effect at Hiroshima University. [124] He became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1978, by which time he had amassed a wide-ranging Senate staff of a hundred. [125]

As a candidate, Carter had proposed health care reform that included key features of Kennedy's national health insurance bill, but in December 1977, President Carter told Kennedy his bill must be changed to preserve a large role for private insurance companies, minimize federal spending (precluding payroll tax financing), and be phased-in so as to not interfere with Carter's paramount domestic policy objective—balancing the federal budget. [126] [127] [128] Kennedy and labor compromised and made the requested changes, but broke with Carter in July 1978 when he would not commit to pursuing a single bill with a fixed schedule for phasing-in comprehensive coverage. [126] [127] [129] Frustrated by Carter's budgetary concerns and political caution, [3] in a December 1978 speech on national health insurance at the Democratic midterm convention, Kennedy said regarding liberal goals overall that "sometimes a party must sail against the wind" and in particular should provide health care as "a basic right for all, not just an expensive privilege for the few." [130] [131] [132]

In May 1979, Kennedy proposed a new bipartisan universal national health insurance bill—choice of competing federally regulated private health insurance plans with no cost sharing financed by income-based premiums via an employer mandate and individual mandate, replacement of Medicaid by government payment of premiums to private insurers, and enhancement of Medicare by adding prescription drug coverage and eliminating premiums and cost sharing. [133] [134] In June 1979, Carter proposed more limited health insurance reform—an employer mandate to provide catastrophic private health insurance plus coverage without cost sharing for pregnant women and infants, federalization of Medicaid with extension to all of the very poor, and enhancement of Medicare by adding catastrophic coverage. [133] Neither plan gained any traction in Congress, [135] [136] and the failure to come to agreement represented the final political breach between the two. [137] (Carter wrote in 1982 that Kennedy's disagreements with Carter's proposed approach "ironically" thwarted Carter's efforts to provide a comprehensive health-care system for the country. [138] In turn, Kennedy wrote in 2009 that his relationship with Carter was "unhealthy" and that "Clearly President Carter was a difficult man to convince – of anything." [139] )

1980 presidential campaign

Kennedy finally decided to seek the Democratic nomination in the 1980 presidential election by launching an unusual, insurgent campaign against the incumbent Carter. A midsummer 1978 poll showed that Democrats preferred Kennedy over Carter by a 5-to-3 margin. [80] During spring and summer 1979, as Kennedy deliberated whether to run, Carter was not intimidated despite his 28 percent approval rating, saying publicly: "If Kennedy runs, I'll whip his ass." [135] [137] Carter later asserted that Kennedy's constant criticism of his policies was a strong indicator that Kennedy was planning to run for the presidency. [140] Labor unions urged Kennedy to run, as did some Democratic party officials who feared that Carter's unpopularity could result in heavy losses in the 1980 congressional elections. [141] Kennedy decided to run in August 1979, when polls showed him with a 2-to-1 advantage over Carter [142] Carter's approval rating slipped to 19 percent. [141] Kennedy formally announced his campaign on November 7, 1979, at Boston's Faneuil Hall. [137] He had already received substantial negative press from a rambling response to the question "Why do you want to be President?" during an interview with Roger Mudd of CBS News broadcast a few days earlier. [137] [143] The Iranian hostage crisis, which began on November 4, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which began on December 27, prompted the electorate to rally around the president and allowed Carter to pursue a Rose Garden strategy of staying at the White House, which kept Kennedy's campaign out of the headlines. [137] [144]

Kennedy's campaign staff was disorganized and Kennedy was initially an ineffective campaigner. [144] [145] The Chappaquiddick incident emerged as a more significant issue than the staff had expected, with several newspaper columnists and editorials criticizing Kennedy's answers on the matter. [144] In the January 1980 Iowa caucuses that initiated the primaries season, Carter demolished Kennedy by a 59–31 percent margin. [137] Kennedy's fundraising immediately declined and his campaign had to downsize, but he remained defiant, saying "[Now] we'll see who is going to whip whose what." [146] Nevertheless, Kennedy lost three New England contests. [137] Kennedy did form a more coherent message about why he was running, saying at Georgetown University: "I believe we must not permit the dream of social progress to be shattered by those whose premises have failed." [147] However, concerns over Chappaquiddick and issues related to personal character prevented Kennedy from gaining the support of many people who were disillusioned with Carter. [148] During a St. Patrick's Day Parade in Chicago, Kennedy had to wear a bullet-proof vest due to assassination threats, and hecklers yelled "Where's Mary Jo?" at him. [149] In the key March 18 primary in Illinois, Kennedy failed to gain the support of Catholic voters, and Carter crushed him, winning 155 of 169 delegates. [60] [137]

With little mathematical hope of winning the nomination and polls showing another likely defeat in the New York primary, Kennedy prepared to withdraw from the race. [137] However, partially due to Jewish voter unhappiness with a U.S. vote at the United Nations against Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Kennedy staged an upset and won the March 25 vote by a 59–41 percent margin. [137] Carter responded with an advertising campaign that attacked Kennedy's character in general without explicitly mentioning Chappaquiddick, but Kennedy still managed a narrow win in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary. [137] Carter won 11 of 12 primaries held in May, while on the June 3 Super Tuesday primaries, Kennedy won California, New Jersey, and three smaller states out of eight contests. [150] Overall, Kennedy had won 10 presidential primaries against Carter, who won 24. [151]

Although Carter now had enough delegates to clinch the nomination, [150] Kennedy carried his campaign on to the 1980 Democratic National Convention in August in New York, hoping to pass a rule there that would free delegates from being bound by primary results and open the convention. [137] This move failed on the first night of the convention, and Kennedy withdrew. [137] On the second night, August 12, Kennedy delivered the most famous speech of his career. [152] Drawing on allusions to and quotes of Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Alfred Lord Tennyson to say that American liberalism was not passé, [153] he concluded with the words:

For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die. [154]

The Madison Square Garden audience reacted with wild applause and demonstrations for half an hour. [137] On the final night, Kennedy arrived late after Carter's acceptance speech and while he shook Carter's hand, he failed to raise Carter's arm in the traditional show of party unity. [60] [153] Carter's difficulty in securing the assistance of Kennedy supporters during the election campaign contributed to his November defeat by Ronald Reagan. [153] [ better source needed ] [ dubious – discuss ]


The 1980 election saw the Republicans capture not just the presidency but control of the Senate as well, and Kennedy was in the minority party for the first time in his career. Kennedy did not dwell upon his presidential loss, [137] but instead reaffirmed his public commitment to American liberalism. [155] He chose to become the ranking member of the Labor and Public Welfare Committee rather than of the Judiciary Committee, which he would later say was one of the most important decisions of his career. [155] Kennedy became a committed champion of women's issues, [155] and established relationships with select Republican senators to block Reagan's actions and preserve and improve the Voting Rights Act, funding for AIDS treatment, and equal funding for women's sports under Title IX. [137] To combat being in the minority, he worked long hours and devised a series of hearings-like public forums to which he could invite experts and discuss topics important to him. [137] Kennedy could not hope to stop all of Reagan's reshapings of government, but was often nearly the sole effective Democrat battling him. [156]

In January 1981, Ted and Joan Kennedy announced they were getting a divorce. [157] The proceedings were generally amicable, [157] and she received a reported $4 million settlement when the divorce was granted in 1982. [158] Later that year, Kennedy created the Friends of Ireland organization with Senator Daniel Moynihan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill to support initiatives for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. [159]

Kennedy easily defeated Republican businessman Ray Shamie to win re-election in 1982. [160] Senate leaders granted him a seat on the Armed Services Committee, while allowing him to keep his other major seats despite the traditional limit of two such seats. [161] Kennedy became very visible in opposing aspects of the foreign policy of the Reagan administration, including U.S. intervention in the Salvadoran Civil War and U.S. support for the Contras in Nicaragua, and in opposing Reagan-supported weapons systems, including the B-1 bomber, the MX missile, and the Strategic Defense Initiative. [161] Kennedy became the Senate's leading advocate for a nuclear freeze [161] and was a critic of Reagan's confrontational policies toward the Soviet Union. [162] [163] [164]

A 1983 KGB memo indicates that Kennedy engaged in back-channel communication with the Soviet Union. [165] [166] [167] According to a May 14, 1983, memorandum from KGB chairman Viktor Chebrikov to general secretary Yuri Andropov, former U.S. Senator John Tunney—a friend and former college roommate of Kennedy's—visited Moscow that month and conveyed a message from Kennedy to Andropov. [167] [168] [169] [170] The memo indicates that the stated purpose of the communication was to "'root out the threat of nuclear war', 'improve Soviet-American relations' and 'define the safety of the world'". [170] Chebrikov wrote that Kennedy was "'very troubled by the current state of Soviet-American relations'" and believed that the "'only real threats to Reagan [were] problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations'". [170] Chebrikov added that those issues, "'according to the senator, will without a doubt become the most important of the [1984] election campaign'". [170] [167] Kennedy reportedly offered to visit Moscow "'to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA'" and to set up U.S. television appearances for Andropov. [170] [167]

Chebrikov also noted "a little-hidden secret that [Kennedy] intended to run for president in 1988 and that the Democratic Party 'may officially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans' in 1984 — turning the proposal from one purely about international cooperation to one tinged with personal political aspiration." [170] Andropov was unimpressed by Kennedy's overtures. [168] After the Chebrikov memo was unearthed, both Tunney and a Kennedy spokesperson denied that it was true. [170] Former Reagan administration negotiator Max Kampelman has asserted that Kennedy did engage in back-channel communications with the Soviet Union, but added that he "'learned that the senator never acted or received information without informing the appropriate United States agency or official'". Kenneth Adelman, a deputy ambassador to the United Nations under Reagan, has asserted that the Reagan administration knew of back-channel communications between various senators and the Soviet Union and were unconcerned about the practice. [170]

Kennedy's staff drew up detailed plans for a candidacy in the 1984 presidential election that he considered, but with his family opposed and his realization that the Senate was a fully satisfying career, in late 1982 he decided not to run. [74] [137] [171] Kennedy campaigned hard for Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale and defended vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro from criticism over being a pro-choice Catholic, but Reagan was re-elected in a landslide. [172]

Kennedy staged a tiring, dangerous, and high-profile trip to South Africa in January 1985. [173] He defied both the apartheid government's wishes and militant leftist AZAPO demonstrators by spending a night in the Soweto home of Bishop Desmond Tutu and also visited Winnie Mandela, wife of imprisoned black leader Nelson Mandela. [137] [173] Upon returning, Kennedy became a leader in the push for economic sanctions against South Africa collaborating with Senator Lowell Weicker, he secured Senate passage, and the overriding of Reagan's veto, of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. [173] Despite their many political differences, Kennedy and Reagan had a good personal relationship, [174] and with the administration's approval Kennedy traveled to the Soviet Union in 1986 to act as a go-between in arms control negotiations with reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. [137] The discussions were productive, and Kennedy also helped gain the release of a number of Soviet Jewish refuseniks, including Anatoly Shcharansky. [137] [175]

Although Kennedy was an accomplished legislator, his personal life was troubled during this time. [176] His weight fluctuated wildly, he drank heavily at times – although not when it would interfere with his Senate duties – and his cheeks became blotchy. [176] [177] Kennedy later acknowledged, "I went through a lot of difficult times over a period in my life where [drinking] may have been somewhat of a factor or force." [176] He chased women frequently, [178] and also was in a series of more serious romantic relationships but did not want to commit to anything long-term. [179] He often caroused with fellow Senator Chris Dodd [179] twice in 1985 they were in drunken incidents in Washington restaurants, with one involving unwelcome physical contact with a waitress, who claimed the pair sexually assaulted her. [178] [180] In 1987, Kennedy and a young female lobbyist were surprised in the back room of a restaurant in a state of partial undress. [74] Female Senate staffers from the late 1980s and early 1990s recalled that Kennedy was on an informal list of male Senators who were known for harassing women regularly, such as while alone in elevators. [181]

After again considering a candidacy for the 1988 presidential election, [74] in December 1985 Kennedy publicly cut short any talk that he might run. This decision was influenced by his personal difficulties, family concerns, and content with remaining in the Senate. [137] [178] He added: "I know this decision means I may never be president. But the pursuit of the presidency is not my life. Public service is." [137] Kennedy used his legislative skills to achieve passage of the COBRA Act, which extended employer-based health benefits after leaving a job. [182] [183] Following the 1986 congressional elections, the Democrats regained control of the Senate, and Kennedy became chair of the Labor and Public Welfare Committee. By now Kennedy had become what colleague, future Vice President and President, Joe Biden, termed "the best strategist in the Senate," who always knew when best to move legislation. [137] Kennedy continued his close working relationship with ranking Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, [182] and they were close allies on many health-related measures. [184]

One of Kennedy's biggest battles in the Senate came with Reagan's July 1987 nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court. [137] Kennedy saw a possible Bork appointment as leading to a dismantling of civil rights law that he had helped put into place, and feared Bork's originalist judicial philosophy. [137] Kennedy's staff had researched Bork's writings and record, and within an hour of the nomination – which was initially expected to succeed – Kennedy went on the Senate floor to announce his opposition:

Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens . [185]

The incendiary rhetoric of what became known as the "Robert Bork's America" speech enraged Bork supporters, who considered it slanderous, and worried some Democrats as well. [74] [185] [186] [187] Bork responded, "There was not a line in that speech that was accurate." [188] In 1988, an analysis published in the Western Political Quarterly of amicus curiae briefs filed by U.S. Solicitors General during the Warren and Burger Courts found that during Bork's tenure in the position during the Nixon and Ford Administrations (1973–1977), Bork took liberal positions in the aggregate as often as Thurgood Marshall did during the Johnson Administration (1965–1967) and more often than Wade H. McCree did during the Carter Administration (1977–1981), in part because Bork filed briefs in favor of the litigates in civil rights cases 75 percent of the time (contradicting a previous review of his civil rights record published in 1983). [189] [190]

However, the Reagan administration was unprepared for the assault, and the speech froze some Democrats from supporting the nomination and gave Kennedy and other Bork opponents time to prepare the case against him. [185] [191] When the September 1987 Judiciary Committee hearings began, Kennedy challenged Bork forcefully on civil rights, privacy, women's rights, and other issues. [137] Bork's own demeanor hurt him, [185] and the nomination was defeated both in committee and the full Senate. [137] The tone of the Bork battle changed the way Washington worked – with controversial nominees or candidates now experiencing all-out war waged against them – and the ramifications of it were still being felt decades later. [186] [191] [192]

During the 1988 presidential election, Kennedy supported the eventual Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, from the start of the campaign. [193] In the fall, Dukakis lost to George H. W. Bush, but Kennedy won re-election to the Senate over Republican Joseph D. Malone in the easiest race of his career. [194] Kennedy remained a powerful force in the Senate. In 1988 Kennedy co-sponsored an amendment to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination in the rental, sale, marketing, and financing of the nation's housing the amendment strengthened the ability of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity to enforce the Act and expanded the protected classes to include disabled persons and families with children. [195] After prolonged negotiations during 1989 with Bush chief of staff John H. Sununu and Attorney General Richard Thornburgh to secure Bush's approval, he directed passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. [182] [196] Kennedy had personal interest in the bill due to his sister Rosemary's condition and his son's lost leg, and he considered its enactment one of the most important successes of his career. [182] In the late 1980s Kennedy and Hatch staged a prolonged battle against Senator Jesse Helms to provide funding to combat the AIDS epidemic and provide treatment for low-income people affected this would culminate in passage of the Ryan White Care Act. [197] In late November 1989, Kennedy traveled to see first-hand the newly fallen Berlin Wall he spoke at John-F.-Kennedy-Platz, site of the famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in 1963, and said "Emotionally, I just wish my brother could have seen it." [198]

Early 1990s

Kennedy's personal life came to dominate his image. In 1989, paparazzi stalked him on a vacation in Europe and photographed him having sex on a motorboat. [176] In February 1990, Michael Kelly published his long, thorough profile "Ted Kennedy on the Rocks" in GQ magazine. [74] It captured Kennedy as "an aging Irish boyo clutching a bottle and diddling a blonde," portrayed him as an out-of-control Regency rake, and brought his behavior to the forefront of public attention. [74] [176] [179] Kennedy's brother-in-law, Stephen Edward Smith, died from cancer in August 1990 Smith was a close family member and troubleshooter, and his death left Kennedy emotionally bereft. [176] [199] Kennedy pushed on, but even his legislative successes, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which expanded employee rights in discrimination cases, came at the cost of being criticized for compromising with Republicans and Southern Democrats. [200]

On Easter weekend 1991, Kennedy was at a get-together at the family's Palm Beach, Florida, estate. After reminiscing about his brother-in-law, Kennedy was restless and maudlin when he left for a late-night visit to a local bar. He got his son Patrick and nephew William Kennedy Smith to accompany him. [176] [201] Patrick Kennedy and Smith returned with women they met there, Michelle Cassone and Patricia Bowman. Cassone said that Ted Kennedy subsequently walked in on her and Patrick, who was dressed only in a nightshirt and had a weird look on his face. [176] [201] Smith and Bowman went out on the beach, where they had sex that he said was consensual but she said was rape. [176] The local police made a delayed investigation Kennedy sources were soon feeding the press with negative information about Bowman's background, and several mainstream newspapers broke an unwritten rule by publishing her name. [201] The case quickly became a media frenzy. [176] [201] While not directly implicated in the case, Kennedy became the frequent butt of jokes on The Tonight Show and other late-night television programs. [176] [202] Time magazine said Kennedy was being perceived as a "Palm Beach boozer, lout and tabloid grotesque" while Newsweek said Kennedy was "the living symbol of the family flaws". [203]

Bork and Clarence Thomas were the two most contentious Supreme Court nominations in United States history. [204] When the Thomas hearings began in September 1991, Kennedy pressed Thomas on his unwillingness to express an opinion about Roe v. Wade, but the nomination appeared headed for success. [205] When Anita Hill brought the sexual harassment charges against Thomas the following month, the nomination battle dominated public discourse. Kennedy was hamstrung by his past reputation and the ongoing developments in the William Kennedy Smith case. [176] [206] He said almost nothing until the third day of the Thomas–Hill hearings, and when he did it was criticized by Hill supporters for being too little, too late. [176]

Biographer Adam Clymer rated Kennedy's silence during the Thomas hearings as the worst moment of his Senate career. [206] Writer Anna Quindlen said "[Kennedy] let us down because he had to he was muzzled by the facts of his life". [206] On the day before the full Senate vote, Kennedy gave an impassioned speech against Thomas, declaring that the treatment of Hill had been "shameful" and that "[t]o give the benefit of the doubt to Judge Thomas is to say that Judge Thomas is more important than the Supreme Court." [207] He then voted against the nomination. [206] Thomas was confirmed by a 52–48 vote, one of the narrowest margins ever for a successful nomination. [206]

Due to the Palm Beach media attention and the Thomas hearings, Kennedy's public image suffered. A Gallup Poll gave Kennedy a very low 22 percent national approval rating. [176] A Boston Herald/WCVB-TV poll found that 62 percent of Massachusetts citizens thought Kennedy should not run for re-election, by a 2-to-1 margin thought Kennedy had misled authorities in the Palm Beach investigation, and had Kennedy losing a hypothetical Senate race to Governor William Weld by 25 points. [208] Meanwhile, at a June 17, 1991, dinner party, Kennedy saw Victoria Anne Reggie, a Washington lawyer at Keck, Mahin & Cate, a divorced mother of two, and the daughter of an old Kennedy family ally, Louisiana judge Edmund Reggie. [209] They began dating and by September were in a serious relationship. [209] In a late October speech at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Kennedy sought to begin a political recovery, saying: "I am painfully aware that the criticism directed at me in recent months involves far more than disagreements with my positions . [It] involves the disappointment of friends and many others who rely on me to fight the good fight. To them I say, I recognize my own shortcomings – the faults in the conduct of my private life. I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them." [176] In December 1991, the William Kennedy Smith rape trial was held it was nationally televised and the most watched until the O. J. Simpson murder case three years later. [176] Kennedy's testimony at the trial seemed relaxed, confident, and forthcoming, and helped convince the public that his involvement had been peripheral and unintended. [210] Smith was acquitted.

Kennedy and Reggie continued their relationship, and he was devoted to her two children, Curran and Caroline, who had the same name as his niece. [176] [211] They became engaged in March 1992, [212] and were married in a civil ceremony by Judge A. David Mazzone on July 3, 1992, at Kennedy's home in McLean, Virginia. [213] She would gain credit with stabilizing his personal life and helping him resume a productive career in the Senate. [176] [211]

Kennedy had no further presidential ambitions. Despite having initially backed former fellow Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic presidential primaries, Kennedy formed a good relationship with Democratic President Bill Clinton upon the latter taking office in 1993. [214] [215] Kennedy floor-managed successful passage of Clinton's National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 that created the AmeriCorps program, and despite reservations supported the president on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). [216] On the issue Kennedy cared most about, national health insurance, he supported but was not much involved in formation of the Clinton health care plan, which was run by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and others. [182] It failed badly and damaged the prospects for such legislation for years to come. [182] In 1994, Kennedy's strong recommendation of his former Judiciary Committee staffer Stephen Breyer played a role in Clinton appointing Breyer to the U.S. Supreme Court. [217] During 1994 Kennedy became the first senator with a home page on the World Wide Web the product of an effort with the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, it helped counter the image of Kennedy as old and out of touch. [218] [219]

In the 1994 U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts, Kennedy faced his first serious challenger, the young, telegenic, and very well-funded Mitt Romney. [176] Romney ran as a successful entrepreneur and Washington outsider with a strong family image and moderate stands on social issues, while Kennedy was saddled not only with his recent past but the 25th anniversary of Chappaquiddick and his first wife Joan seeking a renegotiated divorce settlement. [176] By mid-September 1994, polls showed the race to be even. [176] [220] Kennedy's campaign ran short on money, and belying his image as endlessly wealthy, he was forced to take out a second mortgage on his Virginia home. [221] Kennedy responded with a series of attack ads, which focused both on Romney's shifting political views and on the treatment of workers at a paper products plant owned by Romney's Bain Capital. [176] [222] Kennedy's new wife Vicki proved to be a strong asset in campaigning. [220] Kennedy and Romney held a widely watched late October debate without a clear winner, but by then Kennedy had pulled ahead in polls and stayed ahead afterward. [223] In the November election, despite a very bad outcome for the Democratic Party nationally, Kennedy won re-election by a 58 percent to 41 percent margin, [224] the closest re-election race of his career.

Kennedy's mother Rose died in January 1995 at the age of 104. From then on, Kennedy intensified the practice of his Catholic faith, often attending Mass several times a week. [225]

Late 1990s

Kennedy's role as a liberal lion in the Senate came to the fore in 1995, when the Republican Revolution took control and legislation intending to fulfill the Contract with America was coming from Newt Gingrich's House of Representatives. [226] Many Democrats in the Senate and the country overall felt depressed but Kennedy rallied forces to combat the Republicans. [226] By the beginning of 1996, the Republicans had overreached most of the Contract had failed to pass the Senate and the Democrats could once again move forward with legislation, almost all of it coming out of Kennedy's staff. [227]

In 1996, Kennedy secured an increase in the minimum wage, which was one of his favorite issues [228] there would not be another increase for ten years. Following the failure of the Clinton health care plan, Kennedy went against his past strategy and sought incremental measures instead. [229] Kennedy worked with Republican Senator Nancy Kassebaum to create and pass the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in 1996, which set new marks for portability of insurance and confidentiality of records. [182] The same year, Kennedy's Mental Health Parity Act forced insurance companies to treat mental health payments the same as others with respect to limits reached. [182] In 1997, Kennedy was the prime mover behind the State Children's Health Insurance Program, [230] which used increased tobacco taxes to fund the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded health insurance coverage for children in the U.S. since Medicaid began in the 1960s. Senator Hatch and Hillary Clinton also played major roles in SCHIP passing. [231]

Kennedy was a stalwart backer of President Clinton during the 1998 Lewinsky scandal, often trying to cheer up the president when he was gloomiest and getting him to add past Kennedy staffer Greg Craig to his defense team, which helped improve the president's fortunes. [232] In the trial after the 1999 impeachment of Bill Clinton, Kennedy voted to acquit Clinton on both charges, saying "Republicans in the House of Representatives, in their partisan vendetta against the President, have wielded the impeachment power in precisely the way the framers rejected, recklessly and without regard for the Constitution or the will of the American people." [233]

On July 16, 1999, Kennedy's nephew John F. Kennedy Jr. was killed when his Piper Saratoga light aircraft crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Martha's Vineyard. John Jr.'s wife Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and his sister-in-law were also killed in the accident. [234] Ted was the family patriarch, and he and President Clinton consoled his extended family at the public memorial service. [234] He paraphrased William Butler Yeats by saying of his nephew: "We dared to think, in that other Irish phrase, that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But like his father, he had every gift but length of years." [234] Ted now served as a role model for Maria Shriver, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Joseph Patrick Kennedy II, and other family members. [235] The Boston Globe wrote of the changed role: "It underscored the evolution that surprised so many people who knew the Kennedys: Teddy, the baby of the family, who had grown into a man who could sometimes be dissolute and reckless, had become the steady, indispensable patriarch, the one the family turned to in good times and bad." [234]


Kennedy had an easy time with his re-election to the Senate in 2000, as Republican lawyer and entrepreneur Jack E. Robinson III was sufficiently damaged by his past personal record that Republican state party officials refused to endorse him. [236] Kennedy got 73 percent of the general election vote, with Robinson splitting the rest with Libertarian Carla Howell. During the long, disputed post-presidential election battle in Florida in 2000, Kennedy supported Vice President Al Gore's legal actions. [237] After the bitter contest was over, many Democrats in Congress did not want to work with incoming President George W. Bush. [182] Kennedy, however, saw Bush as genuinely interested in a major overhaul of elementary and secondary education, Bush saw Kennedy as a potential major ally in the Senate, and the two partnered together on the legislation. [182] [238] Kennedy accepted provisions governing mandatory student testing and teacher accountability that other Democrats and the National Education Association did not like, in return for increased funding levels for education. [182] The No Child Left Behind Act was passed by Congress in May and June 2001 and signed into law by Bush in January 2002. Kennedy soon became disenchanted with the implementation of the act, however, saying for 2003 that it was $9 billion short of the $29 billion authorized. [182] Kennedy said, "The tragedy is that these long overdue reforms are finally in place, but the funds are not," [238] and accused Bush of not living up to his personal word on the matter. [182] [200] Other Democrats concluded that Kennedy's penchant for cross-party deals had gotten the better of him. [182] The White House defended its spending levels given the context of two wars going on. [182]

Kennedy was in his Senate offices meeting with First Lady Laura Bush when the September 11, 2001, attacks took place. [234] Two of the airplanes involved had taken off from Boston, and in the following weeks, Kennedy telephoned each of the 177 Massachusetts families who had lost members in the attacks. [234] He pushed through legislation that provided healthcare and grief counseling benefits for the families, and recommended the appointment of his former chief of staff Kenneth Feinberg as Special Master of the government's September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. [234] Kennedy maintained an ongoing bond with the Massachusetts 9/11 families in subsequent years. [234] [239]

In reaction to the attacks, Kennedy was a supporter of the American-led 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. However, Kennedy strongly opposed the Iraq War from the start, and was one of 23 senators voting against the Iraq War Resolution in October 2002. [234] As the Iraqi insurgency grew in subsequent years, Kennedy pronounced that the conflict was "Bush's Vietnam." [234] In response to losses of Massachusetts service personnel to roadside bombs, Kennedy became vocal on the issue of Humvee vulnerability, and co-sponsored enacted 2005 legislation that sped up production and Army procurement of up-armored Humvees. [234]

Despite the strained relationship between Kennedy and Bush over No Child Left Behind spending, the two attempted to work together again on extending Medicare to cover prescription drug benefits. [182] Kennedy's strategy was again doubted by other Democrats, but he saw the proposed $400 billion program as an opportunity that should not be missed. [182] However, when the final formulation of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act contained provisions to steer seniors towards private plans, Kennedy switched to opposing it. [182] It passed in late 2003, and led Kennedy to again say he had been betrayed by the Bush administration. [182]

In the 2004 Democratic Party presidential primaries, Kennedy campaigned heavily for fellow Massachusetts Senator John Kerry [234] and lent his chief of staff, Mary Beth Cahill, to the Kerry campaign. Kennedy's appeal was effective among blue collar and minority voters, and helped Kerry stage a come-from-behind win in the Iowa caucuses that propelled him on to the Democratic nomination. [234]

After Bush won a second term in the 2004 general election, Kennedy continued to oppose him on Iraq and many other issues. [108] [182] However, Kennedy sought to partner with Republicans again on the matter of immigration reform in the context of the ongoing United States immigration debate. [182] Kennedy was chair of the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Refugees, and in 2005, Kennedy teamed with Republican Senator John McCain on the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act. The "McCain-Kennedy bill" did not reach a Senate vote, but provided a template for further attempts at dealing comprehensively with legalization, guest worker programs, and border enforcement components. Kennedy returned again with the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which was sponsored by an ideologically diverse, bipartisan group of senators [240] and had strong support from the Bush administration. [182] The bill aroused furious grassroots opposition among talk radio listeners and others as an "amnesty" program, [241] and despite Kennedy's last-minute attempts to salvage it, failed a cloture vote in the Senate. [242] Kennedy was philosophical about the defeat, saying that it often took several attempts across multiple Congresses for this type of legislation to build enough momentum for passage. [182]

In 2006, Kennedy released a children's book from the view of his dog Splash, My Senator and Me: A Dog's-Eye View of Washington, D.C. [243] Also in 2006, Kennedy released a political history entitled America Back on Track. [244]

In 2006, a Cessna Citation 550 in which Kennedy was flying lost electrical power after being struck by lightning and had to be diverted. [245]

Kennedy again easily won re-election to the Senate in 2006, winning 69 percent of the vote against Republican language school owner Kenneth Chase, who suffered from very poor name recognition. [246]

Obama, illness

Kennedy initially stated that he would support John Kerry again if he were to make another bid for president in 2008, but in January 2007, Kerry said he would not make a second attempt for the White House. [247] Kennedy then remained neutral as the 2008 Democratic nomination battle between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama intensified, because his friend Chris Dodd was also running for the nomination. [248] The initial caucuses and primaries were split between Clinton and Obama. When Dodd withdrew from the race, Kennedy became dissatisfied with the tone of the Clinton campaign and what he saw as racially tinged remarks by Bill Clinton. [248] [249] Kennedy gave an endorsement to Obama on January 28, 2008, despite appeals by both Clintons not to do so. [250] In a move that was seen as a symbolic passing of the torch, [234] Kennedy said that it was "time again for a new generation of leadership," and compared Obama's ability to inspire with that of his fallen brothers. [249] In return, Kennedy gained a commitment from Obama to make universal health care a top priority of his administration if he were elected. [248] Kennedy's endorsement was considered among the most influential that any Democrat could get, [251] and raised the possibility of improving Obama's vote-getting among unions, Hispanics, and traditional base Democrats. [250] It dominated the political news, and gave national exposure to a candidate who was still not well known in much of the country, as the Super Tuesday primaries across the nation approached. [248] [252]

On May 17, 2008, Kennedy suffered a seizure, which was followed by a second seizure as he was being rushed from the Kennedy Compound to Cape Cod Hospital and then by helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. [253] Within days, doctors announced that Kennedy had a malignant glioma, a type of cancerous brain tumor. [254] The grim diagnosis [254] [255] [256] brought reactions of shock and prayer from many senators of both parties and from President Bush. [254]

Doctors initially informed Kennedy that the tumor was inoperable, but Kennedy followed standard procedure and sought other opinions. He decided to follow the most aggressive and exhausting course of treatment possible. [255] On June 2, 2008, Kennedy underwent brain surgery at Duke University Medical Center in an attempt to remove as much of the tumor as possible. [257] [258] The 3½-hour operation—conducted by Dr. Allan Friedman while Kennedy was conscious to minimize any permanent neurological effects—was deemed successful in its goals. [257] [258] Kennedy left the hospital a week later to begin a course of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. [259] Opinions varied regarding Kennedy's prognosis: the surgery typically extends survival time for only a few months, but people can sometimes live for years. [258] [260]

The operation and follow-up treatments left Kennedy thinner, prone to additional seizures, weak and short on energy, and hurt his balance. [255] Kennedy made his first post-illness public appearance on July 9, when he surprised the Senate by showing up to supply the added vote to break a Republican filibuster against a bill to preserve Medicare fees for doctors. [261] In addition, Kennedy was ill from an attack of kidney stones. Against the advice of some associates, [262] [263] he insisted on appearing during the first night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention on August 25, 2008, where a video tribute to him was played. Introduced by his niece Caroline Kennedy, the senator said, "It is so wonderful to be here. Nothing – nothing – is going to keep me away from this special gathering tonight." [234] He then delivered a speech to the delegates (which he had to memorize, as his impaired vision left him unable to read a teleprompter) [225] in which, reminiscent of his speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention, he said, "this November, the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans. So, with Barack Obama and for you and for me, our country will be committed to his cause. The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on." [264] The dramatic appearance and speech electrified the convention audience, [234] [263] [265] as Kennedy vowed that he would be present to see Obama inaugurated. [266]

On September 26, 2008, Kennedy suffered a mild seizure while at home in Hyannis Port he immediately went to the hospital, was examined and released later that same day. Doctors believed that a change in his medication triggered the seizure. [265] Kennedy relocated to Florida for the winter he continued his treatments, did a lot of sailing, and stayed in touch with legislative matters via telephone. [255] In his absence, many senators wore blue "Tedstrong" bracelets. [255]

On January 20, 2009, Kennedy attended Barack Obama's presidential inauguration, but then suffered a seizure at the luncheon immediately afterwards. He was taken by wheelchair from the Capitol building and then by ambulance to Washington Hospital Center. [267] Doctors attributed the episode to "simple fatigue". He was released from the hospital the following morning, and he returned to his home in Washington, D.C. [268]

When the 111th Congress began, Kennedy dropped his spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee to focus all his attentions on national health care issues, which he regarded as "the cause of my life". [255] [269] [270] He saw the characteristics of the Obama administration and the Democratic majorities in Congress as representing the third and best great chance for universal health care, following the lost 1971 Nixon and 1993 Clinton opportunities, [271] and as his last big legislative battle. [255] Kennedy made another surprise appearance in the Senate to break a Republican filibuster against the Obama stimulus package. [272] When spring arrived, Kennedy appeared on Capitol Hill more frequently, although staffers often did not announce his attendance at committee meetings until they were sure Kennedy was well enough to appear. [255] On March 4, 2009, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Gordon Brown announced that Kennedy had been granted an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for his work in the Northern Ireland peace process, and for his contribution to UK–US relations, [273] [274] although the move caused some controversy in the UK due to his connections with Gerry Adams of the Irish republican political party Sinn Féin. [275] Later in March, a bill reauthorizing and expanding the AmeriCorps program was renamed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act by Senator Hatch in Kennedy's honor. [276] Kennedy threw the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park before the Boston Red Sox season opener in April, echoing what his grandfather "Honey Fitz" – a member of the Royal Rooters – had done to open the park in 1912. [277] Even when his illness prevented him from being a major factor in health plan deliberations, his symbolic presence still made him one of the key senators involved. [278]

However, Kennedy's tumor had spread by spring 2009 and treatments for it were no longer effective this information was not disclosed to the public. [225] By June 2009 Kennedy had not cast a Senate vote in three months, [279] and his deteriorating physical health had forced him to retreat to Massachusetts, where he underwent another round of chemotherapy. [272] In his absence, premature release of his health committee's expansive plan resulted in a poor public reception. [280] Kennedy's friend Chris Dodd had taken over his role on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, [281] but Republican senators and other observers said that the lack of Kennedy's physical presence had resulted in less consultation with them and was making successful negotiation more difficult. [272] [282] Democrats also missed Kennedy's ability to smooth divisions on the health proposals. [283] Kennedy did cut a television commercial for Dodd, who was struggling early on in his 2010 re-election bid. [281] In July, HBO began showing a documentary tribute to Kennedy's life, Teddy: In His Own Words. [284] A health care reform bill was voted out of the committee with content Kennedy favored, but still faced a long, difficult process before having a chance at becoming law. [285] At the end of July 2009, Kennedy was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. [286] He could not attend the ceremony to receive this medal, and attended a private service but not the public funeral when his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver died at age 88 in mid-August. [283] In his final days, Kennedy was in a wheelchair and had difficulty speaking, but consistently stated that "I've had a wonderful life". [225]

Fifteen months after he was initially diagnosed with brain cancer, Kennedy succumbed to the disease on August 25, 2009, at age 77 at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. [287] In a statement, Kennedy's family thanked "everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice". [288]


President Obama said that Kennedy's death marked the "passing of an extraordinary leader" [289] and that he and First Lady Michelle Obama were "heartbroken" to learn of his passing, [290] while Vice President Biden said "today we lost a truly remarkable man," [291] and that Kennedy "changed the circumstances of tens of millions of Americans". [292] Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts Governor and Kennedy's opponent in the 1994 senate race, called Kennedy "the kind of man you could like even if he was your adversary" [293] and former First Lady Nancy Reagan said she was "terribly saddened". She went on, "Given our political differences, people are sometimes surprised how close Ronnie and I have been to the Kennedy family. . I will miss him." [294] [295] Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the President pro tempore of the Senate, issued a statement on Kennedy's death in which he said "My heart and soul weeps at the loss of my best friend in the Senate, my beloved friend, Ted Kennedy" [296] Byrd had broken down on the Senate floor and cried uncontrollably when Kennedy's cancer diagnosis was made public the previous year. [297] Upon his death, his sister Jean was the only one still living of the nine Kennedy siblings.

There were also tributes from outside politics. Before a Boston Red Sox game, flags at Fenway Park were flown at half-staff and "Taps" was performed as players stood along the baselines, [298] and the Yankees observed a moment of silence for Kennedy before a game at Yankee Stadium. [299]

Funeral services

Kennedy's funeral procession traveled a 70-mile (110 km) journey from the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, past numerous landmarks named after his family, to the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts, where his corpse lay in repose [300] and where over 50,000 members of the public filed by to pay their respects. [301] On Saturday, August 29, a procession traveled from the library to the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston, for a funeral Mass. [302] Present at the funeral service were President Obama and former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush (also representing his father, former President George H. W. Bush, who decided not to attend), [303] along with Vice President Biden, three former Vice presidents, 58 senators, 21 former senators, many members of the House of Representatives, and several foreign dignitaries. [304] President Obama delivered the eulogy. [305]

The funeral service also drew celebrities and other notables from outside politics from Boston, Washington, and across the United States, including journalists Bob Woodward, Tom Brokaw and Gwen Ifill singers Tony Bennett and Plácido Domingo cellist Yo-Yo Ma actors Jack Nicholson, Lauren Bacall, and Brian Stokes Mitchell presidents and chancellors of Boston-area colleges and universities including Harvard University President Drew G. Faust and University of Massachusetts President Jack M. Wilson and sports figures including former Boston Celtics basketball player Bill Russell, as well as the top management of the Red Sox. [305] [306]

Kennedy's remains were returned to Washington, D.C. and laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, near the graves of his assassinated brothers. [305] Former Cardinal and Washington D.C. Archbishop Theodore McCarrick presided over his burial service, which was attended by Biden, Kennedy's widow Vicki, and other members of the Kennedy family. [307] Kennedy's grave marker is identical to his brother Robert's: a white oak cross and a white marble foot marker bearing his full name, year of birth, and death. [308]


True Compass, the memoir that Kennedy worked on throughout his illness, was published three weeks after his death. [309] It debuted atop the New York Times Best Seller list [310] and by mid-December 2009 had total sales of some 400,000 copies. [311]

A special election was scheduled for January 19, 2010, for the U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts left vacant by Kennedy's death. [312] Shortly before his death, Kennedy had written to Democratic Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick and the Massachusetts legislature, asking them to change state law to allow an appointee to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy for a term expiring upon the special election. [313] [314] [315] Kennedy had been instrumental in the prior 2004 alteration of this law to prevent Governor Mitt Romney from appointing a Republican senator should John Kerry's presidential campaign succeed. [316] The law was amended, and on September 24, 2009, Paul G. Kirk, former Democratic National Committee chairman and former aide to Kennedy, was appointed to occupy the Senate seat until the completion of the special election. [317] Kirk announced that he would not be a candidate in the special election. [317] In that election, Republican State Senator Scott Brown won the seat in a stunning upset, [318] ending Democratic control of it going back to 1953.

Brown's victory ended the 60-vote supermajority in the Senate that the Democrats had held since mid-2009, and appeared to spell the end for health care reform legislation. [319] [320] However, Democrats rallied and passed the measure Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was instrumental in doing so, credited Kennedy's life work in her closing remarks on the House floor before the final vote. [319] [321] Kennedy's widow Vicki attended the signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, at which both she and President Obama wore blue "Tedstrong" bracelets. [320] Congressman Patrick Kennedy brought a copy of a national health insurance bill his father had introduced in 1970 as a gift for the president. [320] Patrick Kennedy then laid a note on his father's grave that said, "Dad, the unfinished business is done." [322] Patrick's earlier decision not to seek re-election meant that in January 2011, a 64-year-long period in which a Kennedy held Federal elective office came to an end, [323] but resumed in January 2013 (due to the November 2012 election) with Ted's great-nephew, Joseph P. Kennedy III, becoming a member of the House. [324] Democratic control of Kennedy's former Senate seat was also regained following Brown's 2012 loss to Elizabeth Warren.

Political scientists gauge ideology in part by comparing the annual ratings by the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) with the ratings by the American Conservative Union (ACU). [325] Kennedy had a lifetime liberal 90 percent score from the ADA through 2004, [326] while the ACU awarded Kennedy a lifetime conservative rating of 2 percent through 2008. [327] Using another metric, Kennedy had a lifetime average liberal score of 88.7 percent, according to a National Journal analysis that places him ideologically as the third-most liberal senator of all those in office in 2009. [328] A 2004 analysis by political scientists Joshua D. Clinton of Princeton University and Simon Jackman and Doug Rivers of Stanford University examined some of the difficulties in making this kind of analysis, and found Kennedy likely to be the 8th-to-15th-most liberal Senator during the 108th Congress. [329] The Almanac of American Politics rates congressional votes as liberal or conservative on the political spectrum, in three policy areas: economic, social, and foreign. For 2005–2006, Kennedy's average ratings were as follows: the economic rating was 91 percent liberal and 0 percent conservative, the social rating was 89 percent liberal and 5 percent conservative, and the foreign rating was 96 percent liberal and 0 percent conservative. [330]

Various interest groups gave Kennedy scores or grades as to how well his votes aligned with the positions of each group. [331] The American Civil Liberties Union gave him an 84 percent lifetime score as of 2009. [332] During the 1990s and 2000s, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood typically gave Kennedy ratings of 100 percent, while the National Right to Life Committee typically gave him a rating of less than 10 percent. [331] The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave Kennedy a lifetime rating of 100 percent through 2002, while the National Rifle Association gave Kennedy a lifetime grade of "F" (failing) as of 2006. [331]

When Kennedy died in August 2009, he was the second-most senior member of the Senate (after President pro tempore Robert Byrd of West Virginia) and the third longest-serving senator of all time, behind Byrd and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Later that same year, he was passed by Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. [49]

During his tenure, Kennedy became one of the most recognizable and influential members of his party and was sometimes called a "Democratic icon" [333] as well as "The Lion of the Senate". [57] [334] [335] [336] Kennedy and his Senate staff authored around 2,500 bills, of which more than 300 were enacted into law. [182] Kennedy co-sponsored another 550 bills that became law after 1973. [182] Kennedy was known for his effectiveness in dealing with Republican senators and administrations, sometimes to the irritation of other Democrats. [337] During the 101st Congress under President George H. W. Bush, at least half of the successful proposals put forward by the Senate Democratic policy makers came out of Kennedy's Labor and Human Resources Committee. [338] During the 2000s, almost every bipartisan bill signed during the George W. Bush administration had significant involvement from Kennedy. [57] A late 2000s survey of Republican senators ranked Kennedy first among Democrats in bipartisanship. [336] Kennedy strongly believed in the principle "never let the perfect be the enemy of the good," and would agree to pass legislation he viewed as incomplete or imperfect with the goal of improving it down the road. [57] In April 2006, Kennedy was selected by Time as one of "America's 10 Best Senators" the magazine noted that he had "amassed a titanic record of legislation affecting the lives of virtually every man, woman and child in the country" and that "by the late 1990s, the liberal icon had become such a prodigious cross-aisle dealer that Republican leaders began pressuring party colleagues not to sponsor bills with him". [200] In May 2008, soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee John McCain said, "[Kennedy] is a legendary lawmaker and I have the highest respect for him. When we have worked together, he has been a skillful, fair and generous partner." [57] Republican Governor of California and Kennedy relative Arnold Schwarzenegger described "Uncle Teddy" as "a liberal icon, a warrior for the less fortunate, a fierce advocate for health-care reform, a champion of social justice here and abroad" and "the rock of his family". [336] At the time of Kennedy's death, sociologist and Nation board member Norman Birnbaum wrote that Kennedy had come to be viewed as the "voice" and "conscience" of American progressivism. [339]

Despite his bipartisan legislative practices, Kennedy was a polarizing symbol of American liberalism for many years. [200] [340] [341] [342] Republican and conservative groups long viewed Kennedy as a reliable "bogeyman" to mention in fundraising letters, [337] on a par with Hillary Clinton and similar to Democratic and liberal appeals mentioning Newt Gingrich. [343] [344] The famous racially motivated "Hands" attack ad used in North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms's 1990 re-election campaign against Harvey Gantt accused Gantt of supporting "Ted Kennedy's racial quota law". [345] University of California, San Diego political science professor Gary Jacobson's 2006 study of partisan polarization found that in a state-by-state survey of job approval ratings of the state's senators, Kennedy had the largest partisan difference of any senator, with a 57 percentage point difference in approval between Massachusetts's Democrats and Republicans. [346] The Associated Press wrote that, "Perhaps because it was impossible, Kennedy never tried to shake his image as a liberal titan to admirers and a left-wing caricature to detractors." [342]

After Robert Kennedy's assassination in 1968, Ted was the most prominent living member of the Kennedy family and the last surviving son of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. John F. Kennedy had said in 1957, "Just as I went into politics because Joe died, if anything happened to me tomorrow, my brother Bobby would run for my seat in the Senate. And if Bobby died, Teddy would take over for him." [347] However, Ted was never able to carry on the "Camelot" mystique in the same way that both of his fallen brothers had, with much of it disappearing during his failed 1980 presidential bid. [337] His negligence in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick and his well-documented later personal problems further tarnished his image in relation to the Kennedy name, [2] and significantly damaged his chances of ever becoming president. [3] [60] [348] The Associated Press wrote, "Unlike his brothers, Edward M. Kennedy has grown old in public, his victories, defeats and human contradictions played out across the decades in the public glare." [337] But Kennedy's legislative accomplishments remained, and as The Boston Globe wrote, "By the early 21st century, the achievements of the younger brother would be enough to rival those of many presidents." [2] His death prompted the realization that the "Camelot era" was truly over. [349] [350] Kennedy's New York Times obituary described him via a character sketch: "He was a Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life, instantly recognizable by his shock of white hair, his florid, oversize face, his booming Boston brogue, his powerful but pained stride. He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy." [3]