Kennedy's Overlooked Accomplishments

Kennedy was a prolific legislator and campaigner so it only reasons that some of his achievements have been overlooked

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Ted Kennedy authored more than 2,500 bills during 47 years in the Senate, several hundred of them becoming laws. Kennedy, 77, also personally touched thousands of lives throughout his political campaigns and those he worked with. Kennedy's lengthy legacy means there are some important matters that have been missed in news coverage today. Here's a sampling of some his best overlooked moments.

  • Saving Clinton's Presidency  Kennedy secretly advised Bill Clinton on how to run against Republicans following their 1994 congressional victory, Newsweek's Elsa Walsh reported. "Pick out areas where the Republicans were seen as extreme," Kennedy urged. Campaign on traditional Democratic ideals that people can understand: protecting Medicare, Medicaid, and education and raising the minimum wage. Kennedy also challenged Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole to refuse to let bills be voted on while Dole was running against Clinton in 1996, which Walsh said embarrassed Dole everyday.
  • Getting a Republican to Defy Reagan  Stuart Eizenstat recounted how Kennedy got future Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals just as Republicans were taking over the White House and Senate in 1981. Kennedy asked President Carter to nominate Bryer, who was a Kennedy staffer, and then asked Strom Thurmond, the conservative incoming judiciary committee chairman to let Breyer through. Thurmond accepted, which Eizenstat said was incredible given that it would "deny Ronald Reagan an early conservative judge on a very important circuit. But Strom's respect for Kennedy and for Steve [Breyer] was such that Strom agreed." Eizenstat's challenge: "You find a better anecdote...and I'll buy you the best steak in town."
  • The Greatest Speech was the eulogy for Robert F. Kennedy, said the Los Angeles Times' Steve Padilla. Though a lot of commentators have made hay of Kennedy's 1980 concession speech at the Democratic national convention, Padilla notes that this speech was heard by a nation mourning the second slain Kennedy in six years. The speech "derives its power not just from the tragic circumstances but also from Kennedy’s dignified and loving delivery."
  • Best Contrarian Moment  Kennedy usher in the deregulation of industry in the 1970s by cutting restrictions on interstate trucking and airline travel. Reason's Nick Gillespie said these accomplishments made Americans "incalculably richer and better off." Because they don't fit the narrative of Kennedy the liberal, they are rarely mentioned, Gillespie said. "But they are exactly the sort of legislation that we should be celebrating in his honor, and using as a model in today's debates about health care, education, and virtually every aspect of government action."
  • Largest Global Impact  "But with the exception of his opposition to the war in Iraq, he played a largely overlooked but important role in international affairs," wrote Adam Clymer at The Daily Beast, "fighting for refugees from Vietnam to Ethiopia to Iraq and crusading against political oppression in nations such as Pakistan, Chile, Northern Ireland, and South Africa."
  • Tutoring a Supreme Court Justice  Stephen Breyer made it through the judicial system to the Supreme Court where he can stay for life. One lesson that helped him get that far was taught to him by Kennedy. "The importance of listening to people you don't agree with," Breyer said. "It's corny and trite, but true."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.