Bob Dole on Kennedy and bipartisanship

The way it is now, newly elected senators start grabbing for the microphone the minute they get in the door. It wasn't like that when Ted Kennedy and I arrived in Washington. He came to the Senate in 1962; I got here in '68. We were both told the same thing by senior senators: don't be too active too soon. In other words, shut up—we'll call on you if you're needed. You had to be there two years before you were recognized.

Ted had to go through that waiting period just like the rest of us. Of course he wasn't like the rest of us; certainly not like me, anyway. He had that magic name that made some things a lot easier for him. But in the Senate everyone thinks he's special, and I understand there was nitpicking in the cloakroom about him when he was first elected. People didn't view him in the same light as they viewed his brothers. Some said he got there just because his name was Kennedy.

It didn't take too long for him to turn that image around. He took advantage of his name, sure. It made it easier for him to introduce a big bill and get a lot of attention. But he didn't expect everyone to fall in line and agree with him, and he didn't get upset when things didn't always go his way. He liked the contact and he liked the competition. When he walked into the room, he had the facts at hand. No senator wanted to go up against Kennedy unless he was prepared. He didn't like to lose.

At the same time, he was willing to walk across the aisle and shoot the breeze and maybe not even mention the bill that was on the floor. He built a lot of friendships that way. But things were different then. Some people have the impression that years ago there wasn't strong partisanship in the Senate. I think that goes back to the Southerners who ran the place for years. They were very partisan. They wanted to win. But they were mild-mannered and gentlemanly and tried to figure out some way to accommodate you if you had a problem. That's the way Kennedy was, too. A lot of that's changed now.

If you made a list of all the issues he was involved in, it would stretch from here to Hyannis Port. Social Security reform, the Americans With Disabilities Act, civil rights—you could throw a dart at all the legislation passed while he was a senator, and his name would appear on 20 percent of it. He was proud of what he did, but he didn't wear it on his sleeve and remind you every day what a great guy he was. He was doing things that should have been done. He was not helping the rich. He was helping the disabled and seniors and children who didn't have enough to eat. Who can fault that?