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Remembering Ted Kennedy: An Interview With Former Sen. Harris Wofford

Former Sen. Harris Wofford has long been among the Kennedy family's confidantes. When John F. Kennedy ran for president, it was Wofford who convinced JFK to make his fateful call to Coretta Scott King after Martin Luther King Jr. was thrown in jail. Years later, Wofford won an unlikely race for Pennsylvania's open Senate seat by emphasizing universal health care. That campaign led to Bill Clinton's 1994 attempt to reform the health-care system. I reached Wofford earlier today to ask about Sen. Ted Kennedy and health care. Excerpts follow.

It must be a hard day.

I feel glad that at last one of the four Kennedy brothers has died a happy man, and, particularly in the last 29 years since he ran for president, has seen accomplishments beyond measure. And with the help of his wonderful wife Vickie, has a great family, both with their own family and the Kennedy family. Both on the personal side and the public citizen side, it is a life that has been so fulfilled.

Vickie said one of the crowning moments of delight for him in the last six months, beyond Barack Obama winning, was the passage of the Serve America Act, which was a quantum leap in Americorps. He's been at the forefront of that since the first national service act in 1990.

Did you speak with Sen. Ted Kennedy much about health care?

I remember in 1994, he was so disappointed with that process, particularly because the Senate and the House weren't involved in making that bill. And he was so hopeful about this process, and sadly, won't be around to see its climax.

Where he is missed now in the Senate is that he knew it was complicated and there would be hard compromises to move forward. It wouldn't all be done at once. He reminded us that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was disappointing because it didn't include voting rights, but they took that step the next year. Lyndon Johnson said, when the first Civil Rights Act was passed, that every Congress henceforth would have to take another step. Kennedy knew the work of health-care reform was not for one Congress, but for many. We've hardly even begun to face the problems of long-term care, and is not in any sense adequately covered, to name just one problem.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 26, 2009; 4:52 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews  
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Comments

"Lyndon Johnson said, when the first Civil Rights Act was passed, that every Congress henceforth would have to take another step. Kennedy knew the work of health-care reform was not for one Congress, but for many."

Worth reading twice

Posted by: eglabe19 | August 27, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

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