Norm Ornstein wrote an appreciation of Edward Kennedy’s Senate career for today’s Roll Call.
What has made Kennedy a great Senator? First is his hard work–incredibly hard work. When I worked in the Senate in 1970, I got to know some of the Kennedy staffers, and heard the tales of his leaving at the end of the day with two legal-size briefcases packed with memos and files–and returning early the next morning with the memos and files heavily annotated with his handwritten comments and observations (all this while he was leading a, shall we say, colorful social life).
Second is his great staff. Naturally, Kennedy had no trouble attracting all-stars to work for him; the Kennedy name alone is magic. But attracting big names or talented people to work for you is not enough. Using their talents to maximize one’s legislative clout and reach, creating an atmosphere where people want to stay or come back, is not a given. Let’s face it–many acclaimed Senators have lousy staffs, or revolving doors, or good staffs that are underused or misused. In an earlier column, I mentioned Kennedy’s legislative director, Kerry Parker, whom I met back in 1970 and is still working for him. Imagine the advantage that comes from having someone at your side with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Senate over the past 40 years, who knows the policy world inside out–and has given up the chance to make 10 times his salary outside the Senate to continue to work for Ted Kennedy.
Third is his drive to find solutions to national problems. Kennedy is an ideologue, a strong and passionate liberal. But his ideological passion is tempered by his desire to make something happen, and his talent for building coalitions to make it so. And that leads to the fourth reason–his willingness to bond with ideological opposites and longtime foes to get results.