Opinion: Biden’s tearful farewell to Ted Kennedy (transcript)
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Here’s a full transcript of his remarks at the Energy Department, as provided by the White House.
-- Johanna Neuman
Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release August 23, 2009
REMARKS BY THE VICE PRESIDENT
ON THE PASSING OF SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY
The Department of Energy
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, Mr. Secretary, thank you and your staff for the privilege of being with you today on what, as I prepared last night, was to be a joyous occasion, announcing another step in the direction of energy independence. And you said the President made a wise choice. The wisest choice the President made was asking you to be -- I mean that sincerely -- to be the Secretary to the Department of Energy. You’ve assembled a first-rate staff, and you’ve taken on a role that is going to be a -- is going to, in large part, determine the success of these next three-and-a-half years, whether or not we make a genuine dent, genuine progress in moving toward an energy policy that can help America lead the world in the 21st century as it did in the 20th century.
Some suggest we’re trying to do too much. But my response is, is there any possibility of America leading the world in the 21st century without a radically altered energy policy? It is not possible. And that charge has been given to one of the most remarkable men to serve in a President’s Cabinet, a Nobel laureate who is as articulate as he is obviously bright, and a man who has assembled a staff that can corral the bureaucracy -- and we’re all -- deal with bureaucracy, we’re all part of it -- in a way that I haven’t seen in awhile.
And I had planned on speaking to the Clean Cities Program as one of the several initiatives we have to begin to reshape our energy policy. But as if Teddy were here, as we would say in the Senate, if you’d excuse a point of personal privilege, I quite frankly think it’s -- would be inappropriate for me to dwell too much on the initiative that we’re announcing today and not speak to my friend.
My wife Jill, and my sons Beau and Hunter, and my daughter Ashley -- and I don’t say that lightly, because they all knew Teddy, he did something personal and special for each one of them in their lives -- truly, truly are distressed by his passing. And our hearts go out to Teddy Jr., and Patrick and Kara, and Vicki, with whom I spoke this morning, and the whole Kennedy family.
Teddy spent a lifetime working for a fair and more just America. And for 36 years, I had the privilege of going to work every day and literally, not figuratively sitting next to him, and being witness to history. Every single day the Senate was in session, I sat with him on the Senate floor in the same aisle. I sat with him on the Judiciary Committee next -- physically next to him. And I sat with him in the caucuses. And it was in that process, every day I was with him -- and this is going to sound strange -- but he restored my sense of idealism and my faith in the possibilities of what this country could do.
He and I were talking after his diagnosis. And I said, I think you’re the only other person I’ve met, who like me, is more optimistic, more enthusiastic, more idealistic, sees greater possibilities after 36 years than when we were elected. He was 30 years-old when he was elected; I was 29 years-old. And you’d think that would be the peak of our idealism. But I genuinely feel more optimistic about the prospect for my country today than I did -- I have been any time in my life.
And it was infectious when you were with him. You could see it, those of you who knew him and those of you who didn’t know him. You could just see it in the nature of his debate, in the nature of his embrace, in the nature of how he every single day attacked these problems. And, you know, he was never defeatist. He never was petty -- never was petty. He was never small. And in the process of his doing, he made everybody he worked with bigger -- both his adversaries as well as his allies.
Don’t you find it remarkable that one of the most partisan, liberal men in the last century serving in the Senate had so many of his -- so many of his foes embracing him, because they know he made them bigger, he made them more graceful by the way in which he conducted himself.
You know, he changed the circumstances of tens of millions of Americans -- in the literal sense, literally -- literally changed the circumstances. He changed also another aspect of it as I observed about him -- he changed not only the physical circumstance, he changed how they looked at themselves and how they looked at one another. That’s a remarkable, remarkable contribution for any man or woman to make. And for the hundreds, if not thousands, of us who got to know him personally, he actually -- how can I say it -- he altered our lives as well.
Through the grace of God and accident of history I was privileged to be one of those people and every important event in my adult life -- as I look back this morning and talking to Vicki -- every single one, he was there. He was there to encourage, to counsel, to be empathetic, to lift up. In 1972 I was a 29 year old kid with three weeks left to go in a campaign, him showing up at the Delaware Armory in the middle of what we called Little Italy -- who had never voted nationally by a Democrat -- I won by 3,100 votes and got 85 percent of the vote in that district, or something to that effect. I literally would not be standing here were it not for Teddy Kennedy -- not figuratively, this is not hyperbole -- literally.
He was there -- he stood with me when my wife and daughter were killed in an accident. He was on the phone with me literally every day in the hospital, my two children were attempting, and, God willing, thankfully survived very serious injuries. I’d turn around and there would be some specialist from Massachusetts, a doc I never even asked for, literally sitting in the room with me.
You know, it’s not just me that he affected like that -- it’s hundreds upon hundreds of people. I was talking to Vicki this morning and she said -- she said, ‘He was ready to go, Joe, but we were not ready to let him go.’
He’s left a great void in our public life and a hole in the hearts of millions of Americans and hundreds of us who were affected by his personal touch throughout our lives. People like me, who came to rely on him. He was kind of like an anchor. And unlike many important people in my 38 years I’ve had the privilege of knowing, the unique thing about Teddy was it was never about him. It was always about you. It was never about him. It was people I admire, great women and men, at the end of the day gets down to being about them. With Teddy it was never about him.
Well, today we lost a truly remarkable man. To paraphrase Shakespeare: I don’t think we shall ever see his like again. I think the legacy he left is not just in the landmark legislation he passed, but in how he helped people look at themselves and look at one another.
I apologize for us not being able to go into more detail about the energy bill, but I just think for me, at least, it was inappropriate today. And I’m sure there will be much more that will be said about my friend and your friend, but -- he changed the political landscape for almost half a century. I just hope -- we say blithely, you know, we’ll remember what we did. I just hope we’ll remember how he treated other people and how he made other people look at themselves and look at one another. That will be the truly fundamental, unifying legacy of Teddy Kennedy’s life if that happens -- and it will for a while, at least in the Senate.
Mr. Secretary, you and your staff are doing an incredible job. I look forward to coming back at a happier moment when you are announcing even more consequential progress toward putting us back in a position where once again can control our own economic destiny.
Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)