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Kennedy Leaves Legacy as Champion for Health Care

Analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks are joined by historian Ellen Fitzpatrick and health care advocate Ron Pollack to discuss Kennedy's political legacy.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And now a look back at Senator Edward Kennedy's legislative and political record, and to Gwen Ifill.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    After nearly five decades of service in the U.S. Senate, Senator Kennedy left his handprints all over the nation's laws. Republicans and Democrats agree his legacy is a remarkable one.

    We're joined now by four who watched or worked with Senator Kennedy over the years: NewsHour regulars Mark Shields and David Brooks; University of New Hampshire history Professor Ellen Fitzpatrick; and Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA, a health care advocacy group.

    So, Mark, his legislative record, which we've been hearing about so much tonight, was it a byproduct of vision or simple longevity?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    It was a lot more than longevity. I mean, we've had senators serve not as long, not many as long as he did, but we've had people with greater seniority.

    What it was, was an incredible ability, which has been touched on in the earlier discussions. He never demonized the other side, a colleague across the aisle. He always viewed today's adversary as tomorrow's potential ally. And it was a gift.

    And whenever you stood in the Senate press gallery and watched him go on the floor, I don't care when it was, other senators would flock to him, and he always had a personal note for each of them, and a good-natured needle.

    It was a remarkable ability to be at the same time someone you always knew where he stood on an issue and what he stood for, yet at the same time he was the one who could establish compromise and consensus. It wasn't just transactional trying to find the middle ground. It was an incredible gift, and he was a gifted, gifted legislator.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And yet, David, as Orrin Hatch alluded to earlier, he was a liberal to the bone. At any point during his career, did that liberalism begin to go out of fashion?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    At every point in his career, almost. You think about some of his major speeches, 1995, Newt Gingrich had just taken over, he gives a speech really replanting the flag. Jimmy Carter's president. He thinks Jimmy Carter is tending more to the center. He plants the flag. He continually is planting the flag through lots of his career.

    But what he had was not only the firm principles, but he also had the craftsmanship. Being a senator is a craftsman. It's a craft. It's a job. And if you ask senators who were the best at it, they would all say him.

    And it was a form of intelligence. I used to interview him, and I remember the last interview I had with him a few — well, maybe more than a year ago now, asked him about liberalism, and his answers were fine. They were fine.

    But I asked him about an arcane piece of the immigration bill which he'd done with John McCain, as a matter of fact, and he was talking about subsection 16, paragraph C. He had a phenomenal memory and intelligence for that kind of stuff.

    And for a guy who grew up in this charismatic family who could have skated on all that, to have discovered this skill, this capacity for details and deal-making, that was, I think, when he really found himself.

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