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Joe Biden, tears in his eyes, says Ted Kennedy made us all bigger

Reutersbidented

An emotional Vice President Biden, who sat next to Teddy Kennedy in the Senate for more than 36 years, looked shaken and grief-stricken this morning as he talked about the man they called the Lion of the Senate.

As he told his wife, Jill, this morning, Biden explained, Kennedy had been there every step of his political life.

When Biden was a 29-year-old novice running for the Senate, Kennedy came to Delaware to campaign for him, corralling votes in Little Italy, where Biden said they rarely voted for a Democrat.

As a new senator, Biden lost his wife and daughter in a car accident that left his two sons clinging to life in a hospital. Biden said Kennedy called every day and often sent help. “I’d turn around and there’d be a specialist from Massachusetts, some doc I never even asked for,” the vice president recalled.

Mostly, Biden said, he “restored my sense of idealism and my faith in the possibilities of what this country could do.”

Wiping tears from his eyes, Biden said Kennedy’s love of country and public service was “infectious when you were with him … you could just see it in nature of the debate. … He was never defeatist, he was never petty, he was never small.” In the process, said the vice president, “he made everybody he worked with bigger, both his adversaries and his allies.”

Think of it, Biden said, “one of most partisan, liberal men serving in the Senate had so many of his foes embrace him … they know he made them bigger, he made them more graceful.”

Finally, noting that although Kennedy changed circumstances for millions of Americans with his legislative victories, his real legacy was to change “how they looked at themselves and how they looked at one another.” Though others in public life might be admirable, said Biden, usually “at the end of the day it gets being about them.” The unique thing about Kennedy, he added, is that “it was never about him, it was always about you.”

With that, after apologizing to staffers at the Energy Department for going off topic at a briefing on recovery projects aimed at speeding energy independence, Biden walked off the stage, his head down.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo:  Biden and Kennedy at Barack Obama's 2009 inaugural. Credit: Reuters

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As much flack as Biden gets for his ADHD-like wandering, an instance like this lets you see the inner heart of the Vice President - sad at a good friend's passing, and authentic to the core. May he find comfort in his memory.

V.P. Biden's comments on Senator Kennedy's death were the most inspiring and uplifting statements that we have heard in years. Unlike the past eight years, this reflects a gracious and unifying tone that has been woefully missing for a long time. Instead of trying to tear down his opponents and rip the country apart, Ted Kennedy set an example in Congress that shows his legacy as a statesman, not just a grubby politician.
A. Gruber


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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