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tv   QA Author John Farrell on the Life Political Career of Sen. Ted Kennedy...  CSPAN  November 13, 2022 11:00pm-12:00am EST

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susan: john, your latest biography is "ted kennedy: a life." please sum up the man and politician in a couple of seconds. john: he wa a u.s. senator who succeeded despite serious flaws and a life, a tormented life filled with tragedy. that is how i would describe him. susan: you write in the book that his life is a lens to examine the cause. explain. john: jfk came into the office
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as something of a centrist. his father had worked on fdr's new deal so they had roof -- they had roots in the left but the movements of the 1960's, the feminist movement, the antiwar movement, they adopted the positions and became martyrs to the position, becoming symbols of the american left. ted had more than 40 years in the senate and you can see the things he fought for and against and it becomes liberalism from fdr's death up until the most recent time of hyper polarization. susan: does his brand of liberalism exist today? john: no.
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i would say the berer folks are probably more enthusia and extreme than he was and the moderates in the party are a little more temperate than he was. i think, it is hard to say, but i think it is accurate to say that the senate misses the 800 pound elephant in the room and his staff and position on four committees. he was a major force of brilliance and liberal enthusiasm and i do not see it there anymore. does -- susan: does that say more about the senate as an institution, or about the man? john: john kennedy used
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television and was assassinated in a way that dominated television, than robert was assassinated on television. i think they just occupied a unique position. a social media has watered down the political impact of television and the rise of cable news. but for a while, they were everything and jack and bobby were first name people like elvis and marilyn. so him being dissed is a factor. the other factor is the senate has changed. in my personal view it goes to the demise of campaign-finance. ted kennedyn 1975 reached out to minority leader hugh scott
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and passed the bill that the front page of the new york times said, special interest money on american politics forever. it has been diluted by the supreme court and actions of politicians and now we are in a position where it is perfectly normal for a u.s. senator to meet the press and say, i can't do that because the donors don't want that. and that is a shame. susan: how long ago did you start covering ted kennedy? john: i started in 1991. i was just in time for the palm beach scandal that involved his nephew. in a way was an opportune time to be introduced to the kennedys and in another way, inopportune time.
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we developed a give or take and then i left congress and covered the white house but for a few years i got a good up-close view of ted kennedy under a lot of pressure, good or bad, covered in the clinton white house when he started doing some back -- some miraculous things in the senate that caused him to be called the lion of the senate. we sat down for three to six interviews. i was the first boston globe reporter to sit there and ask if he has a drinking problem. i also interviewed him for my books. but since then, but mostly, he was a great source. if you caught up with him in the home -- in the hallway he would stop and say, this is not going
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anywhere because come and he would mumble. if you could decipher it, it was golden information. susan: how did he answer the drinking question? john: i think he was a little bit stunned and immediately went from, how are you doing? two, it is going to be one of those interviews. it was tense. he had a line in mind, i am going to be more attentive to my behavior. that was the line throughout the summer. his nephew was accused of rape in palm beach in easter and then that summer was the clarence thomas anita hill hearings and he might as well have had a paper bag over his head because he was so exposed on the issue of sexual harassment and was in
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no place to be making judgments about other people's morals. he was silent. happy to draw sailboats on a piece of paper during the clarence thomas trials. i have had the authors of both standard works on the thomas hearings tell me if the ted kennedy who had been around three years earlier had stopped the nomination to the supreme court had been there that summer than tariff -- clarence thomas would not be on the supreme court but because he was compromised because of personal behavior, his political behavior , he was not in a position to lead the charge. susan: as a writer, what are the challenges of encompassing things into one volume?
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john: to take the people who are caricatures. most young people if they know ted kennedy, it is as the mayor from simpson's. for richard nixon's, -- nixon, people who go to rabobank use nixon masks. -- who go into a bank to rob it use nixon masks. you either love teddy or hate him. i try to say, no matter what he is, the interesting story is what he became from what he was. so let's see why he made the choices he did. what is the back story of this
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move? biography tells the story of a human, not a political leader. where there is black or white, biographies look for gray and good biographers are led by empathy. so these things all come into play. i do not write the book to talk about how great the liberal era was, but to recognize he was a person and was passionate about what he does. susan: before we get into his life more extensively, that copy notes a claim accorded his previous book helped him garner
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access to a remarkable range of new sources. what were prominent sources? john: his second wife. she did not want the book to be done. she was not ready for a fire if you did not grant me access to his private -- she was not ready for the book. she did not grant me access to his private letters. but then i was an award winner and it was an example bowl -- and it was clear this book was going to come out. so that is when she agreed to be a source. i did not have access to diaries, i had to dig them out myself. i asked for the diaries, ted
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kennedy's diaries. he had a habit of coming back from vietnam or a meeting and talking into a tape recorder and someone would transcribe it and it would be filed away in the vaults in boston at the jfk library. i asked for them and was turned down. i never lost hope that i might see them. but i learned that when he came back from vietnam and talked into a tape recorder about his impressions, that transcript two is to his speechwriters. they had a copy in their file and that was in the national are with the judiciary committee files. going through those file by file, in the speechwriting file i had his diary entries from
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vietnam. so i knew they were there. and so i looked for more scattered throughout his papers and eventually came away come up for an unauthorized sampling, it turned out to be [indiscernible] arthur slashes rates journal is a great book and -- arthur/ginger -- arthur sle chinger's journal was a great book and there was a lot of interesting stuff, including material about 10 kennedy. it has been probably 10 years since i knew the material was there and i hoped every day i would not read about it in
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someone else's book. after the accident chappaquiddick where one of his aides was killed in ted kennedy's car, arthur/ginger -- arthur schlesinger talked with steve smith about the events at chappaquiddick and for the first time we had a version of what happened and what he told his family. it's not a revelation that ted kennedy tried to cover up the accident and escape responsibility.
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he admitted it to his sister and it came into arthur's diary. susan: i want to go to his adult life but you spend a good bit of time on his family life growing up. what are the most important influences from his childhood that influenced who he would become? john: family. always family. it was an immensely wealthy family. they had benefits few others have. the father traveled often and was a philanderer. the mother reacted to that and
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ted was shipped off to boarding school by age seven when the knights child came along -- when the knights child came along. -- ninth child came along. he was lonely at school. there was some degree of sexual molestation by a hall proctor. he gave a short story he wrote when he was little to a professor at the university of virginia and the professor recounted it in oral history and the story was about a little boy who was very lonely at school and decided to run away and as he was running away his suitcase opened up and his belongings fell down the hill and he was
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caught and brought back and it is a very sad story to have written as a child and it captures what it was like. he idolized his older brothers. he did not think he was in their league. part of the reason he felt that way is because they teased him incessantly. john called him illiterate. in no way was ted kennedy ever prepared for anything that happened to him after age 32. never expected to wear the crown . he was the jester of the family, not the prince.
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joe decided in the 1930's that with all the money he had, he did not have the power he craved and he needed to find the power through politics. he screwed up his own political career by being accused [indiscernible] so he had to pass on his ambitions to his sons and they all feltheir father's eyes on the back of their neck. joe jr. died in the war and john kennedy moved up and robert tend moved up as confidant to john and when john was killed, robert kennedy takes john's seat in the family airplane and started to
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where the bomber jacket the president always wore. then robert was killed and the last kid, the one who was never supposed to inherit the legacy, did. and the legacy was known as camelot and liberals across america worshiped the kennedys and he has to cope with that. between when robert died and the accident in chappaquiddick, it is striking how many people said, look at his behavior. he is making too much and driving too fast and something bad is going to happen. and then it did. susan: he married at age 22.
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he -- she was 22, he was 26. he said in his family that family vows -- marriage vows are elastic. what do we know about the marriage? john: it's sad. john was a lovely young woman -- jonah -- joan was a lovely young woman and no one knew she would have to be anything other than a senator's wife, at most. no one had the idea she would have this series of immense tragedies. they probably had one good year
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in washington in 1962. then jfk was assassinated and then the stresses in their life led to her drinking problem, which was accelerated by his philandering, and it was a marriage that jean kennedy smith once said was like a eugene o'neill play, tragic in almost every way. susan: they had three children. how were they impa by their john: they put up a brave front and say dad tried to give us as much time and we have warm memories with him.
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he would have people like henry kissinger over for dinner and he would seat his kids at the dinner table. he tried hard to keep them in his life. but any one of these tragedies would have dominated your life or my life. they are almost parenthetical to others. all three kids had cancer early before middle-age. all developed substance abuse problems. any one of those things would command our attention. my kid has cancer. my second kid has cancer. my third kid has cancer. at the same time, his brothers are being killed and three members of the family died in plane accidents.
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it is like shakespeare and why everyone is still fascinated it. susan: he joined the senate at 30. did he want it? john: yes but it was also a family decision. he helped jack campaign and the 1960's and there was a moment where he and his wife considered leaving the fold and moving and forging a life of their own in the west. in politics, but on their own. instead his dad basically said, we paid for the seat and we are not giving it up. robert was going to be jack's attorney general so it left somebody but teddy was two years too young.
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they pressured the governor to appoint someone who agreed to leave the sea so -- the seat so ted could run and he was installed. it was an amazing race. eddie mccormick, the nephew of the speaker of the house, ran in the primary against him so it was teddy versus eddie. it was an astonishing moment in history. it was more than just a local race. susan: i wanted to get this description of the senate on the record. you write of the senate i 1963, it was aged men with breath of
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bourbon who hailed each other with courtesies. a different senate than today? john: yes. e republican leader was -- this 1964 civil rights act would not have passed without robert dirksen. he worked hand in hand with andrew nelson in the white house on all these things. it was a generation that came together and fought world war ii and they had in mind that they can do amazing good things. eisenhower, a conservative, let us build the interstate highway
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system. today they would say, my god, what an abusive -- what an abuse of power. john kennedy, let us go to the moon. that generation, we can do that. because they had been in foxholes together and faced this threat of soviet missiles, they were together in a way that you cannot imagine looking back. they were not all heroes but they all had to be dragged by their collars to pass the civil rights act and they got us into vietnam out of arrogance and hubris but it was an amazing moment in american history for these guys who came home and decided they can do big things.
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that feeling of national unity and ambition is lacking today. it is a shame. susan: where was ted kennedy november 23, 1963? john: he was presiding over the senate. he was sitting listening to something about postal reform or something like that and then all of a sudden an aide came in and went over to the floor leader and then to the dais and said, senator, your brother the president has been shot. immediately he left and by the time he got back to his office, the news was on the radio and his staff was shocked and the phone lines were jammed all over
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washington and it took him, he finally decided to go home and he gets home and finds out his kids were at the white house for a play date so he's alone and his phone is not working. he finds a phone and gets through to robert kennedy and robert says, he is dead, you have to call her mother and sisters. that was his duty. taking care of the family while jackie and robert to care of the country. susan: robert kennedy was elected to the senate. they have three years together in the senate before rober died. how did they use the time?
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john: there was never a doubt that robert was the senior and that teddy was better at the job. robert, john used to call him black robert because he was such a serious and sometimes mean by. he was in this place of toughness and determination and yet a gentleness had been awakened after the suffering he went through when jfk died. ted was asked to shoulder gruesome duties like dealing with the war. happy-go-lucky ted. he was burying his grief. then robert decided to challenge
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lyndon johnson over vietnam in 1968 and ted tells him not to do it. you can walk into the white house in 1972. robert says, no, i insist. ted says, ok, then i am with you. he does a masterful job running the primary for him. susan: 1968, robert kennedy was assassinated. how old was teddy? john: he was born in 1932 so 36. susan: we have a video i want to show of him delivering his brothers eulogy. ted kennedy: my brother not be idealized.
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he should be remembered simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to write it. he saw suffering and tried to heal it. he saw war and tried to stop it. those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, what he was to us, what he wished for others, will someday come to pass for all the world. as he said many times in many parts of this nation, to those who touched and those who sought to touch him, some men see things as they are and say, why? i dream things that never were and say, why not? susan: he reported that -- he reported in the book that the toll was even greater on their father. john: patrick left politics and
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went on to be an advocate for mental health issues. he knows ptsd and other issues like that, maladies like that. he said in the constant referral to the deaths, the constant movies and documentaries, ted kennedy could sit down and watch television and suddenly there would be a clip, some argument over the war commission or there would be the motorcade in dallas again where the casket when robert was killed. it was inescapable. it was always there. and yet among the kennedy men, the idea that he would undergo
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some sort of recognition of what it was doing to you, much less get counseling, was taboo. it was not part of the family code. susan: ted kennedy described it as the time of greatest questions. how did he deal with his grief? john: he lost his faith for a while. on one hand, one of john kennedy's friends once asked him how he rectifies how you treat your wife with religion? you say your prayers that night and go to church. jfk said, you don't want to lose total touch because if you do
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and something awful happens, you have lost the console and power of religion. so you do not want to put yourself in that spot. at the time when john and robert and joe jr. and kathleen had all died violent deaths, ted kennedy lost that faith. it was not until the end of his life when he seemed to regain it and it became important again. he said my counseling was walking beaches and getting in a sailboat and battling the waves. susan: but this was also a time of fast cars, women, lots of alcohol. why did the press not report it? john: eventually they did. during chappaquiddick, there
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would start to be hints in time magazine about his life. but it was not really until chappaquiddick on watergate were the big shocking events. it was covered up like boys will be boys. then it was, we have to examine character before being put somebody in the white house because of dixon. and we have to examine ted kennedy's flaws. susan: on chappaquiddick, we have a news report that contains his statement about the events. ted kennedy the deep pond immediately filled with water. the cold water rushed in around my head and i thought for certain i was drowning.
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i felt the sensation of drowning. but somehow i struggled to the surface life. i made immediate and repeated efforts to save mary jo in -- by diving into the current but i succeeded in only increasing my utter state of exhaustion and alarm. this week has been agonizing for me and the members of my family and the grief we feel over the loss of a wonderful friend will remain with us the rest of our lives. susan: how many hours were between him making repeated attempts to save mary jo and
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reporting it to police? john: 10 hours. it's incredible. he establishedn alibi. she was still in the car in the pond. the following morning when he was found, he was having breakfast with sailors and asked him if he had reported it. he said no, i am going to tell a story that mary jo was driving the car. they said, you can't do that. he still didn't go to the police. they went to a phone so he could call other advisors and while they did that they saw the ambulance go over the ferry to chappaquiddick and they realized they had about 15 minutes to get
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to the police and make some kind of report. in its own way he he was candid, he said he was driving the car. but he never tried to justify it . he called it inexcusable. he said he panicked. but looking back the awful part for a biographer is to realize, this was a crude attempt to stay out of jail and establish an alibi. susan: if his name was not kennedy, would he have been charged? john: if his name was not kennedy, he probably would've gone to the police and called it in immediately. if you are i had been in an accident like that and there was
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no proof of drinking or reckless driving, what he was convicted of was leaving the scene of an accident and was sentenced to to make -- two months in jail suspended in the boston globe spotlight team examines the records and said for a young person with a clear record, it is probably the sentence we would've gotten. susan: but 10 hours later, the alcohol would have been gone from his session. john: that just leaps out at us. susan: how did it impact his political effectiveness? watergate was a few years after that. he was possibly going to be tasked with that investigation. how did it play out? john: before that, unbelievably, he was still a presidential front runner.
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after chappaquiddick, there is a picture of nuns standing on the side of the road holding a sign that said we love ted. and he was the king of the parade. it was astonishing how durable the kennedy myth was at that moment, before watergate and the church committee revelations. but he was still a front runner that scared richard nixon and helped prompt some dirty tricks that emerged as watergate. but back to your question, in august of that year his staff uncovered a key witness to the watergate scandal and rather than holding a big public
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hearing, they left it to woburn bernstein to go put the story together because they were afraid it would be looked at as political hatchet work and also their guys did not have the moral authority to call those kinds of earrings and they knew he would be vulnerable because of chappaquiddick and things he had told carl bernstein about drinking. susan: he ultimately decided not to run for president. you say in the book that after 20 years he considered the presidential process [indiscernible] john: it was after watergate. that came to work against him. the republicans were deeply
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wounded. there was a huge democratic majority. gerald ford had inherited inflation and unemployment from jimmy carter. so a democrat was going to win. the field that year ended up being swept by this unknown, out of work, one term governor from georgia. it is hard not to think that had kennedy wanted to run, that he could not have gotten the nomination and i think any democrat would have been elected president. as it was, carter barely beat ford. susan: you describe their rivalry as a turning point in american politics that changed the course of liberalism. john: and american politics.
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jimmy carter said he lost because of ilation, the kennedy challenge, and the embassy in tehran. he said the kennedy challenge was fueled by personal hatreds and rivalries of the top and also among the staff and it went on and on. i'm not saying it would have happened anyway but it contributed to ronald reagan ushering in a new conservative era. and hats off to reagan, he got elected and showed us what a great president could do in terms of unifying people and moving the public and even though it was in the opposite direction of kennedy, kennedy admired reagan for restoring grace and power to the presidency, which is a way of saying jimmy carter had left
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that dutch had let that move away. -- had let that move away. susan: an interview on cbs in the 1970's, fletcher mudd hesitated on why he wanted to run for president. people speculate it was self sabotage. you have a different analysis. john: no, i believe it. susan: i thought you wrote he wanted the presidency. john: he felt he wanted to run because of the legacy. u.s. senators were coming to him and saying, ted, you have to save the party. it's a slamdunk. and carter was already being challenged. so i think he certainly would
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have wanted to exercise the powers of the presidency for the things he believed in and would have wanted to whip jimmy carter. but subconsciously, there is a likely explanation to what happened in the fletcher mudd interview. self sabotage. he did not believe he was as good as his brothers. he had doubts about his ability. and whenever he got close to the white house, he created obstacles for himself. he performed the best when he was further away. his best moment of that campaign is when he lost and addresses the crowd and says the dream shall never die. his worst moment was the roger mudd interview when everyone said, he was the favorite
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[indiscernible] susan: the 1980's and 1990's were the most fruitful time of legislation for him. i'm going to show a video from 1990, the ryan white act. >> ryan white spent the last five years of his life fighting for his life and also for the lives of all people living with aids. this bill will help ensure all people with aids and hiv receive the health care they need and deserve. one thing that was extraordinary, about this young man, after he received the tainted blood transfusion, from the moment he drew his last breath on earth, he never condemned anyone. he was not looking for the scapegoats. john: that was an amazing
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moment. we have seen what happened with the pandemic two years ago. but at that time, this was a disease that struck pariahs. no politician wanted to be part of it. the opposing view was voiced by a staunch conservative who wanted to make sure no one in the country had sex outside of marriage. not just homosexual sex. so ted kennedy forging a partnership with orrin hatch, republican from utah and bob
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dole, republican leader, educated the senate, devised a strategy, and pushed the bills through to provide a real federal response for the aids crisis for the first time. richard nixon had the war on cancer. ronald reagan, extending the voting right act. bob dole, voting rights and aids. howard baker, one man, one vote. lindsey graham and john mccain, immigration. you cannot pick one issue. nancy kassebaum, ted kennedy, education. you cannot pick a domestic issue from that time in which ted kennedy's ability to forge an alliance with a republican
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president or senator was not a key factor. there is the house of representatives, the white house, other committees in the senate. but the key so often in many debates is kennedy's ability, time after time he forged bipartisan alliances. i think it was thomas jefferson who said great measures have to be passed with all factions in support. jefferson said it better than i just did. i think that was the guiding light of ted kennedy throughout his career. susan: his seat on the judiciary committee and influence on the modern supreme court, we have a clip from 1987. >> a land in which women would
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be forced into black -- back alley abortions, blacks would have to sit at separate counters, police could break down doors in midnight raids, and schoolchildren would not be taught about evolution. and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of rights that are the heart of our democracy. susan: many people point to the nomination as the pivotal point when supreme court nominations became very partisan. he led the charge. was he responsible? john: no. it started in 1968 when nixon was running for president and lyndon johnson got -- as chief
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justice and republicans filibustered, and that democrats then used character issues against the republicans. it goes back to the 1960's. what he was doing is interesting. it was not so much attacking the republicans, he wanted, this was the reagan years and he wanted to instill backbones in democratic moderates, especially those from the south. what he was saying in the speech is, hold your fire. i will be watching a full-scale attack on this and before you go home to the south and say to the mainstream that i'm going to vote for that nominee, you are going to have to consider that
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your constituents have just been told who this guy is and i will lead the crusade against him. biden showed himself as a moderate scholar of the court and told newspapers bourque would not necessarily be a bad choice and part of what kennedy was doing was freezing biden from running for president and biden joined him in the campaign against bork. susan: he was diagnosed with a brain tumor when? john: 2008. susan: how did the clintons react to an endorsement? john: not well.
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everyone expected teddy would endorse hillar together on many things. worked so it was a shock. but he was convinced we needed to make a leap and he saw in barack obama a generational star to make the leap. susan: after the diagnosis he went to the 2008 dnc to speak. here's a clip. >> as i look ahead, i am strengthened by family and friendship. so many of you have been with me in the happiest days, and the hardest days. together, we have known the success and seen setbacks. victory and defeat.
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but we have never lost our belief that we are all called to a better country, and a newer world. and i pledge to you that i will be there next january on the floor of the united states senate. susan: how ill was he? john: he was loaded up with painkillers. on the plane to denver he had intense pain. they did not know what it was. he was examined at the hospital. it was painful kidney stones. he was sedated and then given strong painkillers. because of the brain tumor there were certain words and phrases he had difficult pronouncing. the speechwriter had written a
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speech twice as long as what he gave. they had rehearsed it over and over but because he was so afraid of falling on his face and stumbling, they realized he could not give it. so they cut it in half and he had to go out and give a speech he had not practiced. he pulled it off. it is a great indication of the quality of perseverance and resilience he had through his life that gave voice to the lion of the senate economic or. susan: you say the issue of his career was health care and he did not live long enough to see the affordable health care act signed into law but he spent his last months working on it. john: there is some question as to how firm the deal was but
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there was certainly an understanding between him and obama that obama would push health care in return for the endorsement. and then kennedy went to work in committee drafting a bill with stakeholders and senators from both sides while seriously ill. obama described them waiting to go into the east room and teddy taking him by the hand and saying, mr. president, now is the time. do not miss this moment. i'm not going to pretend that nancy pelosi and barack obama are nothing more than really tough politicians. but as he died on after his death, let us do this for teddy
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was part of the calculus. he was so much a politician that even after he died, he left a letter to obama to be delivered after his death that said, do not waste this moment. when obama spoke to the country about the affordable care act, he read from the letter. at the same time he was trying to make sure a democrat was appointed to his seat in massachusetts so they would not lose the majority in the senate. so he was still taking steps to get things through in his last few months. obama said after the
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celebrations were over he went back up to the residence in the white house and he thought about his mother, who had died of breast cancer, and he thought of ted kennedy. susan: thank you very much for spending the hour with us. the book is "ted kennedy: a life." john: thanks. >> all q&a programs are available on our website or as a podcast on c-span now.
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