TOPICS > Politics

Democrats Give Tribute to Senator Kennedy in Denver

August 25, 2008 at 9:40 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: This is an event, Mark and David, that nobody thought it would happen. It just seemed implausible.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: It’s truly remarkable. And it’s an emotional moment for (inaudible)

JIM LEHRER: There’s the Bidens, Senator Biden, and also it is implausible in that he would be able to come, not only to come, but to make a speech that — this man still knows how to make a speech.

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: And to promise that he’d be there in January…

JIM LEHRER: Exactly.

DAVID BROOKS: … which was, you know, willing himself onward.

MARK SHIELDS: He ended it, Jim, with the same speech, the same phrases he used in 1980 in Madison Square Garden.

JIM LEHRER: Is that right?

MARK SHIELDS: Instead of the dream — instead of the dream never dies, he said the dream lives on, the hope rises again. We begin anew. I mean, that was how he ended that…

DAVID BROOKS: To think that, when Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama at American University, after the defeat in New Hampshire, I believe that was a big moment for the Obama campaign. It really gave it a new spirit.

I’ve also been told that very early in the process, when Obama was thinking about running, it was a conversation with Kennedy that gave him a little fortitude to go ahead into the race.

Close friendships

David Brooks
The New York Times
[T]hat's why Ted Kennedy is the best senator alive today, because of the close friendships not only with Obama, but with McCain.

JIM LEHRER: Is that right? I hadn't heard that. Had you heard that before?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. We've also been told Patrick Kennedy, the son, the congressman, of course, Barack Obama stays in touch with him throughout this entire summer. And it gives his dad a great lift. He calls about the campaign.

And they've talked frequently all the way through his treatment. But they were worried about the immune system. That's what his physicians were worried about, because of the treatments. Your immune system's down.

JIM LEHRER: To go on an airplane and fly over here?

MARK SHIELDS: And whatever you say about Democrats, this is not an immune -- you know, an immune (inaudible) crew. But, I mean, there's a lot of germs floating around this town...

DAVID BROOKS: Just to finish one thought on Barack Obama...

JIM LEHRER: Absolutely.

DAVID BROOKS: I was on the bus -- I mean, on Ted Kennedy. I was on the bus with John McCain a while ago. And he gets a call, and he's surrounded by reporters. He doesn't want to confess who he's talking to, but it's Ted Kennedy calling just to wish him good luck and goodwill. And that's why Ted Kennedy is the best senator alive today, because of the close friendships not only with Obama, but with McCain.

MARK SHIELDS: And what's remarkable about Ted Kennedy -- and I think it was overlooked in his career -- his greatness as a senator, which I would think remains unchallenged and recognized by virtually everybody that's ever come in the Senate or thought about it seriously, began in 1980...

JIM LEHRER: After he was...

MARK SHIELDS: ... with his defeat, when he gave up hopes for the presidency, when that was over, that's when he devoted all his time, effort, talent considerably to becoming the greatest senator of the century, I think, probably.

Concentrating on the Senate

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
[Kennedy] said, OK, that's over. That phase of my life is over. I am going to concentrate my talent. And his personal skills are unmatched in the Senate.

JIM LEHRER: Did he consciously make the decision then he would never, ever run for president again? Was that a clean decision, do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, I don't know that for sure, but that's certainly my conclusion, having observed his career. Jim, for the longest time, the Senate was dominated by southerners. And one of the reason it was...

JIM LEHRER: Democratic senators.

MARK SHIELDS: Democratic southerners. And one of the reasons was they had no hope coming from the segregated South to run for president, so all their time, talent, and energy were devoted to the Senate. That was as high...

JIM LEHRER: They were legislating.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. And they weren't thinking about whether I go to the New Hampshire primary or whatever else as virtually every other senator who shaves in the morning sees Mount Rushmore. And they weren't that way. They said, "This is where we go."

Ted Kennedy became that, in a strange way. He said, OK, that's over. That phase of my life is over. I am going to concentrate my talent. And his personal skills are unmatched in the Senate.

DAVID BROOKS: One of my biggest surprises interviewing people like Ted Kennedy is when you talk to Kennedy about grand themes, he's fine. But when you talk to him about sub-clause C of some piece of legislation he dealt with 10 years ago, he remembers exactly sub-clause C, D, and E.

He's got a mind for that kind of detail and an ability to craft that kind of legislation and, I would say, most of all, an ability to get a staff that is unmatched by any others and to inspire those people who would not work for anybody else in the Senate.

JIM LEHRER: But these were not professionals who work for anybody? They just work for Ted Kennedy?

MARK SHIELDS: Forty-six years he's been doing it, too. Forty-six years, he's been getting people. I mean, that's the toughest thing. People come in oftentimes, and they have very talented people around them who are contemporaries. The toughest thing is to reach then over across the generational divide to getting younger people who aren't of your generation, who aren't of your experience, who might not as comfortable, and Kennedy has done that time and time and time again.

JIM LEHRER: Did you find it extraordinary, David, that, in Ken Burns' film, the introductory film, that with Ted Kennedy as a young legislator was banging the table about health care, and he's been doing it ever since, and did it again tonight.

DAVID BROOKS: And in some ways, that's the real message of the Obama campaign, that there are issues like health care, and energy, and education which we've been talking about for the entire expanse of Ted Kennedy's career without resolution. And that's why it's worth taking risk on a young guy. I think that's the argument of the Obama campaign.

JIM LEHRER: Here's the baton. Now you run with it.

DAVID BROOKS: You've got to try something new, and that's why you get this young guy.