Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Can-Do Kennedy

Unlike his brothers, Ted Kennedy won't leave behind any soaring rhetoric for the history books, but colleagues in both parties this week are recalling his four decades as the Senate's most practical politician who "routinely reached across party lines on a wide number of issues to cut landmark deals."

In contrast to their public use of his name to signify woolly-headed liberalism, Republicans are talking about the "go-to guy" in getting laws on the books, practitioner of a lost bipartisan art in the era of Bush-Rove scorched-earth polarization.

“He’s a legislator’s legislator," says Sen. Jon Kyl. "At the end of the day, he wants to legislate, he understands how, and he understands compromise.”

“I’ve known and worked with him for 40 years," recalls GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander. "He’s results-oriented. He takes his positions, but he sits down and gets results,” Alexander said.

Jack and Bobby Kennedy were tough acts to follow, and their younger brother turned out not to have their talent for words to inspire voters. In 1980, his attempt to challenge Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination was undone when he fumbled the answer to Roger Mudd's question of why he wanted to be president in a TV interview.

Instead, Ted Kennedy fell back on the old-pol genes of his maternal grandfather, Honey Fitz Fitzgerald, who helped build modern Boston during four decades as mayor after his family came over from Ireland during the Potato Famine.

Now, Republicans like John McCain' sidekick Lindsey Graham are being wistful about cutting deals with Ted Kennedy with a handshake or promise when they hammered out laws such as one on policy toward foreign detainees.

“When we worked on the detainee bill it was just members of the Senate and members of the executive branch literally writing a bill, line by line,” Graham remembers. “He told me it was like the Civil Rights Bill, where you just put people in a room and you wouldn’t let them out.”

When a new American era starts next January, both Democrats and Republicans are hoping Ted Kennedy will still be there to show them how it's done.

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