Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Tribute to Sen. Kennedy

Posted on September 10, 2009

Madam President, the assistant Democratic leader, in his eloquent remarks, mentioned Ted Kennedy's maiden address, which is a tradition we have here in the Senate. We try to wait for an appropriate time before we say much, and then we try to say something we think makes a difference. I waited an appropriate time and made some remarks on the floor in support of legislation that would help put the teaching of American history and civics back in its rightful place in our schools so our children could grow up learning what it means to be an American. I know the Presiding Officer has a great interest in that subject as well, and she and I have worked on that together. I proposed that we create summer academies for outstanding teachers and students of United States history. Ted Kennedy was on the floor. He was the chairman or ranking member of the committee that handled that at the time. He came over afterwards and said: I will get you some cosponsors. The next thing I knew, he had 20 Democratic cosponsors for my little bitty bill that I had introduced. However well I thought of him before that, I thought even better of him after that. I think it is a small example of why he was so effective here in what he cared about. I remember him talking about taking his family -- his extended family -- once a year to some important place in America, some place that made a difference. He was especially taken with their trip to Richmond, I believe it was where they went to the place where Patrick Henry went down on one knee and made his famous address. I guess one reason he was so interested in U.S. history was because he and his family were and are such a consequential part of it, but he made a big difference in what we call the teaching and learning of traditional American history. On another occasion, he called me up to his hideaway -- he had been here long enough to have a great room somewhere; I do not know where it is, but it has a great view of the Capitol -- to talk about Gettysburg and what we could do to preserve that. Then, we were working together, when he died, with Senator Byrd, who has been such a champion through U.S. history, on legislation that would tie the teaching of American history to our national parks, which we are celebrating this year, with Ken Burns' new movie, and with other ways to try to help use those nearly 400 national park sites we have to teach American history. He and I and David McCullough had breakfast, for example, and talked about David McCullough teaching a group of teachers about John Adams at the John Adams House in Massachusetts, as one example. Then, of course, that turned to what was Ted Kennedy going to do about finding an appropriate place to honor John Adams in Washington, DC. That was another piece of unfinished business Ted Kennedy left that others of us will have to continue to work on. That is why he got along so well here. When he cast his 15,000th vote, I remember saying the sure-fire way to bring a Republican audience to its feet was to make an impassioned speech against high taxes, against more Federal control, and against Ted Kennedy, and he laughed that great big laugh of his. But it was true. But almost everyone on this side will say there was no one on that side who we would rather work with on a specific piece of legislation because no matter how much we might disagree with him -- and we certainly did on many issues -- when it got to the point where it was time to decide: Can we do something? He was ready to do something. And his word was good. And his ability to help pass an important piece of legislation was unquestioned. Plus, we liked him. We liked his spirit, and we liked his personality. My first engagement with Senator Kennedy was as a very young man when I came here in 1967 as a young aide to then-Senator Howard Baker. Senator Baker, who was the son-in-law of Senator Dirksen, then the Republican leader, teamed up with Ted Kennedy, the younger brother of the former President, and they took on the lions of the Senate, Sam Ervin of North Carolina and Everett Dirksen, and won a battle over one man, one vote. I was the legislative assistant on this side and Jim Flug, the longtime friend and aide of Senator Kennedy, was the legislative aide on that side. I am here today, as we all are, to pay our respects to Senator Kennedy. Maybe some of us can help with some of that unfinished business, such as helping to make sure we expand the idea of teaching American history in our national parks to larger numbers of outstanding teachers and to outstanding students of U.S. history; and continuing the effort to do something about the long lines of adults in America who are waiting to learn our common language -- English. Ted was very interested in that, as I am. But most of all, what I wish to say is what I believe most of us feel: We will miss him. We will miss his big voice, we will miss his big smile, and we will miss his big presence. Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor.