President Barack Obama speaks at the dedication of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, in Boston on March 30, 2015.
Susan Walsh—AP
By Maya Rhodan
March 30, 2015

President Barack Obama used the opening of an institute dedicated to the legacy of the late Teddy Kennedy on Monday to ask a crowd of U.S. Senators and other dignitaries why Washington officials couldn’t be more like the man known as the lion of the Senate.

Obama, who was joined by the First Lady, Vice President Biden, and Republican and Democratic Senators at the opening dedication ceremony for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston, said he hoped the new facility would inspire and educate visitors. “We live in a time of such great cynicism about our institutions. We are cynical about Washington and about government most of all,” Obama said. “This place can help change that. It can help light the fire of imagination.”

The institute aims to teach visitors about the importance of the United States Senate and motivate younger generations to engage in the political process. The cornerstone of the sprawling white institute, designed by architect Rafael Viñoly, is a full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate chambers where Kennedy served for 47 years.

Vice President Biden said he had a front row seat to the nearly five decades Kennedy spent in the Senate where he fought passionately for some of the most divisive and important legislation of our nation’s history. Biden said he hopes that the institute and the celebration of Kennedy’s legacy will help future generations learn to listen and find consensus among their adversaries and hopefully begin to fix the broken system of government. “All politics is personal,” Biden said. “No one in my life understood that better than Ted Kennedy.”

Kennedy’s reputation as a bipartisan deal-maker was reflected at Monday’s ceremony by the number of Republicans, including former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Sen. John McCain, joining Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey in singing Kennedy’s praises.

Sen. McCain of Arizona recalled a particularly fiery exchange he and the late Senator had on the floor of the Senate once, after which Kennedy gave him a hug and the two shared a laugh about it. The Senate, McCain said, has missed his late colleague. “No, the place hasn’t been the same without him, but if we learn the right lessons from the late Edward M. Kennedy’s example we can make it better,” McCain said. “We can make it a place where every member can serve with pride and love.”

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a champion of progressive policies to benefit the working and middle class, shared a story of how Ted Kennedy’s fight for bankruptcy reform inspired her to enter politics. “Senator Kennedy changed my life,” Warren said. “And he changed what I understood about public service.”

“This institute will give millions of people an opportunity to be inspired. That is the perfect way to honor the memory of Ted Kennedy,” she added.

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