Ted Kennedy: His Life and Legacy

Edward Klein
Wednesday, August 26, 2009; 1:00 PM

Edward M. Kennedy, one of the most powerful and influential senators in American history and one of three brothers whose political triumphs and personal tragedies captivated the nation for decades, died late Tuesday at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., at age 77. He had been battling brain cancer.

Complete Coverage: Edward M. Kennedy

Edward Klein, author of "Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died," and many other bestselling biographies about the Kennedy family, was online Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the lawmaker's career, personal life and legacy.


Edward Klein: I Edward Klein here. I'm the author of a number of Kennedy books -- five -- including my latest "Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died." Look forward to your questions and hearing your opinions as well.


Boston, Mass.: What would Kennedy say was his greatest professional achievement and deepest professional disappointment?

Edward Klein: I think he would list several achievements as his favorite including prescription Medicaire, Part B, and also NO Child Left Behind, which he forged with President George W. Bush, and as a far as his disappointments are concerned I think he would list the failure to pass health-care reform as number one.


Washington, D.C.: Did Sen. Ted Kennedy serve in the military?

Edward Klein: Yes, he served for two years as a buck private in the military police.


Moore?: After whom was Edward Kennedy given the middle name Moore?

Edward Klein: Both his first name and middle name came from his father's best friend, Edward Moore.


College Park, Md.: A lot of the coverage so far has seemed to indicate that of Bobby, JFK and Ted, Ted was the "most significant" of the three brothers in terms of achievements. Some of this attribution must be due to the fact that Ted outlived his brothers by quite a bit.

In terms of looking at the most productive period of Ted's life, comparable in length to JFK and Bobby's political careers, how does Ted stack up against them?

Edward Klein: Ted did live a much longer and fuller life than his brothers. And in terms of passing legislation, there's no contest, he's number one. However, John F. Kennedy's handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis was certainly an historic achievement of the first accord.


Central Virginia: I'm sure the obvious question is: Who can replace Sen. Kennedy? I mean this in two ways. What person currently in the Senate is as powerful as he was? He made friends with both parties and was a well-respected man. And who do you think is a possibility to replace him in Massachusetts?

Edward Klein: In Massachusetts it may come down to a intra-family feud between Sen. Kennedy's wife Vickie and his nephew Joseph Kennedy II. As for the Senate, there are a lot of very good senators but none with that special, artful touch that Ted Kennedy had.


London, U.K.: Is it true that Kennedy asked Sen. Robert Byrd to be his vice president during the 1980 campaign? If so, do you think it was a serious offer?

Edward Klein: As far as I know, Sen. Kennedy never asked anyone to be his vice president since Sen. Kennedy never got the nomination in the first place and so was in no position to offer the number two spot.


Dallas, Tex. : Mr. Klein, Will Sen. Kennedy be remembered for his important social legislation or his vote against the Iraq war? Was he correct in comparing Iraq to Vietnam?

Edward Klein: Personally I think Sen. Kennedy will be remembered more for his domestic achievements than for his foreign positions and policies. From my perspective he was wrong to equate Iraq with Vietnam.


Washington, D.C.: As a liberal who came of age during the Reagan era, I've always been comforted by Sen. Kennedy's presence in the Senate. How was he able to maintain his influence and get laws passed during long stretches when the opposition had power in Congress, the White House, or both? Could anyone replicate some of his successes? Or has that time passed with him?

Edward Klein: Sen. Kennedy acquired his reputation as a great senator because of his place in the opposition, not in spite of it. He refused to accept the role of an impotent democratic liberal in an era of republican ascendancy and he managed to induce many of his republican colleagues to join him in legislation that served both of their interests.


Boston, Mass.: Do you know if Kennedy had completed his memoirs and if or when they will be published? Do you think they might contain the full truth about Chappaquiddick or was the memory just too painful for him to revisit?

Edward Klein: I seriously doubt that Sen. Kennedy is going to bare all in his forthcoming memoirs which he did complete before he died.


Richmond, Va.: This may not be the best time to ask this question, but was it ever learned exactly what happened the night Mary Jo Kopechne died at Chappaquidick in 1969, and why Ted Kennedy waited so long to inform the police? Did Ted make any attempt to rescue her? Was it believed that she knew some dark secret about the Kennedys? There was no railing on the bridge he drove off of at night, right?

Thank you.

Edward Klein: The full story of Chappaquiddick will never be known. Sen. Kennedy and his colleagues decided to avoid indictment for manslaughter at all costs and therefore they fudged over many details. What can be said, however, is that he shamefully failed to notify the authorities that he had driven a car into the water and that a young lady was unable to escape from that watery tomb. He waited nine hours to report the accident and if he hadn't been a senator and a Kennedy he surely would have been indicted by a grand jury for manslaughter.


Charleston, S.C.: Mr. Klein,

How do you explain the transformation of Sen. Kennedy, for Republican politicians, from a symbol of left-wing liberalism to be feared, mocked and ridiculed to a well respected, powerful consensus builder? Has he always been viewed in that manner by insiders? Has his illness and advancing age led these Republicans to publicly proclaim him as this fence-mender and reach-across-the-aisle Senator?

Edward Klein: He gained his reputation among Republicans gradually and over many, many years. At one point he was called "the Democrat that Republicans love to hate," and his very name on a campaign letter brought in lots of contributions from his enemies, but as the years passed and it became clear that he was one of the hardest working senators on Capitol Hill, he gained the respect and affection of his political enemies who learned to work with him affectionately.


San Diego: Did Senator Kennedy ever make "peace" with Jimmy Carter?

Edward Klein: No. There mutual dislike never abated. They rubbed each other the wrong way, they approached politics from totally different directions, they didn't trust each other, their staffs took glee in criticizing each other and perhaps most important of all they espoused very different philosophies. Carter was a conservative Democrat and Kennedy was a liberal Democrat and never the twain did meet.


Washington, DC: What happened to his first wife and mother of his children? Is she still alive?

Edward Klein: Joan Kennedy is still alive though she is not in good mental or physical condition. She has never been able to conquer her alcoholism and as a result of her self-destructive behavior her children got a court order from a judge appointing a guardian for their mother.


washingtonpost.,com: This concludes our discussion with Edward Klein today. For more discussion about Sen. Kennedy, come back at 3 p.m. to talk to Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn of The Washington Post: Remembering Ted Kennedy with Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn.


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