Ted Kennedy's Legacy

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

Audio Transcript:

KATY CLARK: I'm Katy Clark and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. Tributes to Senator Edward Kennedy continue to pour in today from around the globe. He's being remembered as a masterful lawmaker, eminent statesman and the patriarch of the Kennedy clan. Kennedy is best known for his focus on domestic issues, such as healthcare and education, but his influence was felt on the international scene as well. Kennedy became a voice for ending the war in Vietnam, a conflict that started in earnest during the administration of his brother, John F. Kennedy. Though Senator Kennedy initially supported the war, by 1968 he called it, "a monstrous outrage." Here's Senator Kennedy speaking in 1972.

SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY: We've got a responsibility to see that this war ends, and I don't think it does the American people -- what is equally important is the Vietnamese people any good to have a continuation of the violence and the killing which is taking place today. I think the president ought to call for an immediate cease fire in the DMZ, and to go back to the peace negotiations in Paris and to insist that we're going to end this war. That's what he pledged the American people, but still the war goes on, still the killing goes on.

KATY CLARK: Kennedy was also a strong proponent of the Northern Ireland peace process. The Senator played a leading role here in supporting Irish Nationalists in Northern Ireland. In 1997 he met with Sinn Fein leader Jerry Adams. It was Adams's first visit to the U.S. after the IRA restored its cease fire. Senator Kennedy spoke at a joint press conference in Washington.

SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY: All of us have seen what violence has meant in Northern Ireland over the period of the past years and also what the cease fire and the possibilities and the prospect for peace can mean in Northern Ireland as well.

KATY CLARK: Edward Kennedy also fought to end apartheid rule in South Africa, and he championed legislation to bring that about. The World's Jeb Sharpe takes a look back.

JEB SHARPE: Those who knew him say Ted Kennedy's opposition to apartheid was a natural extension of what he stood for. He found apartheid morally repugnant and he wanted to see it dismantled. The anti-apartheid movement in the U.S. took off in 1984. The following year Kennedy visited South Africa to see conditions there for himself.

SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY: And while I'm here in that spirit of open inquiry and cooperation, I must say to you quite frankly that I also come with an abiding commitment to basic human values. High among those values are a belief in the fundamental equality of all people, a belief in the right of all individuals, regardless of the color of their skin, to social and political justice, and a deep opposition to the entire concept of apartheid.

JEB SHARPE: Later that year Kennedy introduced legislation to impose economic sanctions on South Africa. The Anti-Apartheid Act became law in 1986, after Congress overrode a veto by President Ronald Reagan. Randall Robinson was a prominent anti-apartheid activist at the time. He says Kennedy was absolutely key to its passage.

RANDALL ROBINSON: What we did that resulted in the overriding of Ronald Reagan's veto, the first time in the 20th century that a foreign policy veto of a sitting president had been overridden by the Senate, that could not have happened without Ted Kennedy. He was not just a major force, he was the essential, he was the indispensable force.

JEB SHARPE: Robinson is now a professor of human rights law at the Dickinson School of Law at Penn State University. He says those U.S. sanctions spelled the beginning of the end for apartheid.

RANDALL ROBINSON: It could not sustain without American investment, American companies, American technology, American weapons support, all of that. We underpinned that system. What Senator Kennedy did was to pull that to a full stop, really, in the last analysis, and that went around the world and made a difference in every Western capital.

JEB SHARPE: So how did Kennedy pull off the legislative feats he's so well known for? Robinson says in this case it was a kind of magic. Kennedy knew how to bring people together across the aisle, and he had a casual way of relating that put people at ease without showiness and bombast.

RANDALL ROBINSON: The magic can't be found in the things he did; the magic was in the fashion with which he did these things. And it was a fashion that made everyone involved quite comfortable and quite fulfilled and quite easy in the sort of collective harness to drive this movement to fruition.

JEB SHARPE: Former Senator Lowell Weiker was one of the Republicans who was instrumental in getting the sanctions legislation through. He says a big part of Kennedy's skill came down to having his facts right.

SENATOR LOWELL WEIKER: Ted always had a total mastery of the subject matter. He was far and away the most prepared Senator that I ever dealt with when I was there. And you know that when you walk into the room and talk with him. You're not just talking with a politician that has some vague philosophy; he understands the situation and tries to plumb all the areas of information so that he comes forth with a complete answer.

JEB SHARPE: In the case of South Africa, Kennedy worked hard to find out what the people affected by apartheid wanted. He communicated constantly with members of the African National Congress, so much so that Weiker said it was as if Kennedy were working the issue from Pretoria, not Washington. The ANC issued a statement about Kennedy today, praising him for his work against apartheid. ANC spokeswoman Jessie Duarte says he is well remembered there, including for his 1985 visit.

JESSIE DUARTE: He was here to talk about the rights of people to a regime who did not restrict any sorts of rights of any people and in fact had just implemented a state of emergency. So it was an important visit.

JEB SHARPE: Duarte and many others around the world sent heartfelt condolences to Kennedy's family today, almost as if to say, "We know he was beloved there in America, but don't forget his contributions to our lives as well." For The Word, I'm Jeb Sharpe.