U.S. Senators past and present, including President Obama and Vice President Biden, were among the many political dignitaries visiting Boston today to dedicate the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
Speakers paid tribute to the life and legacy of Ted Kennedy and to the institution in which he served for nearly 47 years. The testimonials about the “Liberal Lion” shared a common theme about his unparalleled skill in reaching across the partisan aisle, developing a rapport and trust among his colleagues (even those with profound ideological differences), and passing important legislation through negotiation and compromise.
In short, they painted a picture of a great communicator. Of course there were references to some of his most famous speeches. But Ted Kennedy’s communication prowess is largely attributed not to stirring addresses at political conventions or to skillful media appearances. Instead, his colleagues recalled his gift for everyday interactions with people, from ordinary citizens to heads of state. They recounted small acts of kindness – personal phone calls, letters, and visits to extend thanks or condolences – and a relentless commitment to making good on his promises. Ted Kennedy was remembered today as a man of empathy who connected on a personal level with everyone he encountered, no matter their station in life.
Vice President Biden, who served with Kennedy in the Senate for more than 35 years, described beautifully how Kennedy’s affable, generous style contributed to his effectiveness in Congress and his longevity in public life:
“Teddy understood that to unlock the potential of the United States Senate, to enable it to arrive at consensus, was about more than just mastering the details of the issue of the day, and he did master them. He understood that consensus was arrived at from the cumulative effect – I emphasize the cumulative effect – of personal relationships, the little things that you did for the other, built over time. That’s what generated the trust, and the mutual respect, and the comity that only Teddy was able to do.”
That attention to the “cumulative effect” – the impressions we make over time, when the cameras stop rolling and the microphones are turned off – is a powerful lesson for all leaders.
The EMK Institute opens to the public tomorrow. It features numerous on-site and on-line educational resources for students and teachers, including lessons and activities about Senator Kennedy and the history of the U.S. Senate.
Watch the full C-SPAN video of the dedication ceremony here: (Vice President Biden’s remarks begin around 1:11:00)