Honoring Edward “Ted” Kennedy: Cooperative Statesman

Ted Kennedy“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country!” While this quote came from his older, brother, former President John F. Kennedy, I believe Ted Kennedy lived this quote for at least the 47 years that he was a senator from Massachusetts.

He was the epitome of cooperative leadership both in his personal and professional lives. I was moved by the personal account from Teddy Jr as he recounted his dad’s resolve as 12 year old TJ feel down a slick hill, having lost a leg to cancer. His father said, “I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.”

As the youngest sibling in his family he developed emotional intelligence and patience that gave him great success in politics as he was a master in communication, bartering, persuasion and negotiation. Charles Campion recalls, “His greatest legacy was his own faith and unwavering beliefs. He followed his own compass, and regardless of the polls and even his own political vulnerabilities, he would never compromise or finesse on his principles.”

He battled for those who had weak representation among lobbyists championing civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ issues, immigration reform, health-care and education reform and the environment. He sponsored a long list of bills for these causes, and walked both sides of the aisle for their support. For example, it was no coincidence that President Bush called on Ted for support in passing the “No Child Left Behind” education bill. Only weeks after his brain tumor was diagnosed, he left his hospital bed to vote for legislation blocking deep cuts in Medicare payments to doctors.

He was incredibly connected on so many fronts, and there were high expectations of his involvement ranging from the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s JFK School of Government, his family, his staffers, his Senatorial initiatives and so much more…

I also appreciate his strong connection with the public and the issues affecting our nation, and attribute this to his hiring an incredible staff over his 47 years as a senator. I often think it was his experience with pain and suffering and the mistakes he made along the way—that kept him in touch—empathetic to other’s plights and connected to the public and to his family. I also believe his strong Catholic faith contributed to his listening and caring, and his tireless efforts to support issues he thought were important with conviction.

I love how he was a cooperative communicator right to the end of his life. During his final illness he finished writing True Compass (to be published on September 14), which he worked closely with Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Powers to assemble. In this book, he makes a strong and personal plea for health-care reform, the culmination of his life’s work.

President Obama called Ted Kennedy, the “greatest senator of our time.” He leaves behind a legacy that few in public life will ever achieve. On the Labor Day weekend, I salute you Edward Kennedy, a man who labored hard and with integrity as a champion of the poor, downtrodden and dispossessed.

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