Robert Caro Introduces Ted Kennedy at the Democratic Convention

Roundup: Historians' Take

Robert Caro, speaking at the Democratic National Convention (July 27, 2004):

[Transcript published at]

It is truly an honor to introduce to this convention Edward M. Kennedy. He is a member of a family which has written so many shining chapters in American history. And during his own four decades in the United States Senate, he has been writing, quietly but with great statesmanship and courage, a shining chapter of his own.

It is especially an honor for me because for many years I have been watching Ted Kennedy in the Senate. In my last book, I wanted to write about the Senate and its history and its power, and in order to get a feeling for the institution itself – its moods, its customs – I would sit week after week in the Senate Gallery, and its committee rooms, trying to absorb how it worked. And it was while I was doing that, that I came, slowly and almost by accident, to the realization of how much Edward Kennedy has meant to the Senate, and to America.

The Senate was, of course, created by the founding fathers to be a mighty institution with great power. During the nineteenth century, during the past, the Senate exercised this power creating monumental pieces of legislation that shaped a young nation. And during the nineteenth century, the Senate produced monumental figures: Henry Clay; John C. Calhoun; Daniel Webster. Trying to understand the Senate, to get a feeling for it, I sat in the galleries, and because I was thinking about its history and how I would write about that history, my mind was focused on the past, on the great Senators of the past.

But as I sat there, week after week, I slowly came to realize that I was also watching a great Senator of the present: Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. In debate after debate, I came to see, Edward Kennedy’s voice was the voice of principle, the voice that echoed back to what the founding fathers intended the Senate to be. You know, when Lyndon Johnson, as leader of the Senate, was trying to pass a bill that really mattered, that would change the course of American history, he would try to make a young senator, or for that matter, an older senator, understand that on this particular issue he must put aside his state’s interests, or his sectional interests, and think instead of the interest of the nation as a whole, and Johnson would say to him, “You’ve got to be a Senator of the United States,” the whole United States.

Sitting there in the Senate gallery, week after week, watching Ted Kennedy fight for great causes, for causes that transcended a state or a section, that phrase came back to me over and over again, because I saw that’s what Ted Kennedy was: a Senator of the United States. His allegiance was, invariably, always, to principle, to great causes. Think of what Ted Kennedy has stood for, of the legion of causes that he has championed during his forty-two years in the Senate: health care, education, the rights of working families, helping to end the war in Vietnam, apartheid in South Africa, and violence in Northern Ireland. He has spoken of civil rights as America’s “great unfinished business.”

Well, no one has done more to try to finish it. When you think back on the struggle for fair housing, for legislation to protect not only African-Americans but women, the disabled, the aged; when you think back on a score of such causes, you realize Ted Kennedy has always been the champion they could count on. It’s not easy to champion such causes, to champion social justice, decade after decade, particularly when the political climate of the time makes those causes controversial, even unpopular. It sometimes takes a great deal of bravery to do that. But Edward Kennedy’s championship of them has never faltered.

His brother, President John F. Kennedy, wrote a famous book, Profiles in Courage. Edward Kennedy’s decades in the United States Senate – his four decades in the Senate – have been a profile in courage. If you’re a historian, you realize as you look back over the long sweep of American history, how few individuals have left a mark on that history that will endure. Because of the brilliance and the forcefulness and the steadfastness with which Edward Kennedy has championed the great causes of our time, because of the way he has brought them into, and kept them in, the national dialogue, because of the way he has made America care about them – the mark that Edward Kennedy has left on American history will endure as long as that history endures.

It’s a great honor now for me to welcome him to this convention: Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

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