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Public Statements

Birthday Tribute To Senator Edward M. Kennedy

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Location: Washington, DC


BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE TO SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY -- (Senate - February 17, 2007)

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, next week, on February 22, while the Senate is on recess, my senior colleague and friend TED KENNEDY will celebrate his 75th birthday, all of this in a year in which he has already marked an extraordinary milestone--45 years of service to Massachusetts and his country in the U.S. Senate.

Senator Kennedy began his career setting a high standard when it comes to birthdays. It was when he reached the minimum constitutional age, 30, that he first came to the Senate--1 of just 16 Senators elected at such a tender age from a total of over 1,895 Senators in all of American history. By his 70th birthday he was one of just 28 Senators to ever cast over 10,000 votes.

But what we celebrate along with Ted at 75--Democrats and Republicans, all in awe of a lifetime of achievement--is the way in which literally every year since he has been marking the passage of time by passing landmark legislation.

The Boston Globe put it best, writing not long ago that ``in actual, measurable impact on the lives of tens of millions of working families, the elderly, and the needy, TED belongs in the same sentence with Franklin Roosevelt.'

That sentence is not constructed lightly--it is the measure of a public servant who doesn't know the meaning of the words ``you can't pass it'--``it can't happen'--``impossible.'

It is the measure of a Senator who--on every issue of importance: health care, war and peace, children, education, civil rights, the rights of women--can always be counted on to be in the lead, challenging on the issues, and fighting for the principles which guide a party and lift up our country.

From his maiden speech in the Senate demanding an end to the filibuster of the original Civil Rights Act, there has not been a significant policy accomplishment in Washington over four decades that hasn't borne his fingerprints and benefited from his legislative skill and leadership. His is the record of progressive politics in our era. On all the great fights that call us to stand up and be counted, from the minimum wage to Robert Bork and Sam Alito, Ted didn't just hear the call to duty he led the charge.

Run down the list--the rights of the disabled a most personal cause for Ted--who for far too long were left in the shadows or left to fend for themselves, TED KENNEDY wrote every landmark piece of legislation that today prohibits discrimination against those with a disability.

AIDS--when a whole lot of politicians were afraid to say the word, Ted passed a bill providing emergency relief to the thirteen cities hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic.

Guaranteed access to health coverage for 25 million Americans who move from one job to another or have preexisting medical conditions wouldn't have happened without TED KENNEDY.

Without TED KENNEDY, there wouldn't have been a bilingual education in the United States for the 5 million students who today have a brighter future because they are learning English in our schools.

Without TED KENNEDY, we wouldn't have lowered the voting age to 18 and ended the hypocrisy that 18-year-olds were old enough to die for their country in Vietnam but not old enough to vote for its leadership at home.

Without TED KENNEDY, we wouldn't be the world's leader in cancer research and prevention--as personal and meaningful an issue as there is in all the world for TED KENNEDY, not just a father, but a loving father of two cancer survivors.

Without TED KENNEDY, we wouldn't have had title XI which opened the doors of competition and opportunity to a generation of women athletes all across our country.

TED is such an extraordinary public servant not only because he knows who he is, and sticks to his guns, never bending with the political currents, but because he has in his life and in his career proven again and again that progress doesn't happen by accident, it doesn't happen when you stick to the text of the latest opinion poll or the whispers of the morning focus group; it happens when leaders define and fight the fights that need fighting--when public servants of conscience and conviction refuse to take no for an answer. That is why for TED KENNEDY, the ``cause' has not just ``endured'--but triumphed, again and again.

Agree with him or not, and we all know that TED has never been afraid to be a majority of one, TED is such an extraordinary leader because he has excelled while completing the work in the U.S. Senate that so many others were afraid to begin.

And, in being a standard-bearer for an ideal, an ideology, a view of the world, TED has also become--as Clymer wrote--``not just the leading senator of his time, but one of the greats in its history, wise in the workings of this singular institution, especially its demand to be more than partisan to accomplish much.'

His partnerships with his fellow Senators are well-known and oft-recited, testimony to his skill and to his convictions. From Howard Baker, Jacob Javits, and Hugh Scott to ARLEN SPECTER, Dan Quayle, Orrin Hatch, Alan Simpson, and Nancy Kassebaum and John McCain--TED has never hesitated to cross the aisle to accomplish his goals--to further a common agenda--finding always--that ideologies, however incompatible in the currency of conventional wisdom--can be put aside for a greater good when Senators--however different--work in good faith to make their country a better place, to improve the lives of their fellow Americans.

TED has always believed you can put aside partisanship--overcome division--and that faith in the ability to come together has mattered most in some of the most trying and divisive times our Nation has endured.

I don't just say this; I have lived it. Through the eyes of an activist, there is often a shocking and gaping gap between those in politics who talk the

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talk and those who walk the walk. It has been that way on Iraq; it was that way in the days of Vietnam. But I remember to this day that more than 35 years ago, after I had committed my life to organizing my fellow veterans to end the war, too few of our leaders were willing to listen, and even fewer were willing to stand with those Vietnam veterans who were standing up against the war. April, 1971--thousands upon thousands of veterans gathered on the Mall. The Nixon White House spread rumors that the veterans would riot and turn violent. The administration even tried to kick us off The Mall. And on that difficult night, when we didn't know if we were going to jail or we were going to demonstrate as we had come here to do, TED KENNEDY was among the brave few Senators who walked down from his office to sit and talk and listen to veterans who describe the realities they had found in Vietnam and why that war had to end.

He reached out and demonstrated--in his actions as well as his words--that we had a right to tell truths many would have preferred we left unspoken, government had a responsibility to listen.

He is listening still--to the voices his conscience tells him must never be ignored.

He hears of children who go through their early years without health care and come to school unable to learn. And he has made their care his crusade. And so millions more children see a doctor today because of TED KENNEDY--and millions more will before he is done.

He hears of workers punching a time clock--doing backbreaking work over the course of a lifetime. And he has made their economic security his agenda. And so millions of workers have seen wages increased over partisan objections, seen pensions protected when others said leave it to the market, seen Social Security protected while others said privatize it, and seen a safe workplace and the right to organize put back on the Nation's agenda--and these issues will again and again be advanced by TED KENNEDY.

That is the drive--the passion--the special commitment we celebrate today--not a new ideology or a new age vision, but an age old belief that Americans have a responsibility to each other--that America is still in the process of becoming--and that we are privileged to serve here to make that dream real for all Americans.

TED KENNEDY is the most prolific legislator in American history, but he is something more. Robert Kennedy once said the most meaningful word in all the English language is ``citizen.' No one has lived out the meaning of that most meaningful word more than his younger brother.

For that and so much more that makes this 75th birthday special, we honor our friend, our colleague, and a great citizen, TED KENNEDY.

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