Ted Kennedy's Vision of the American Legacy

Question: When you read the newspaper or watch the news, what issues stand out for you?

Ted Kennedy: Well the large issues, I think, are how are we as a people, as individuals, states, country going to deal with the challenges of globalization over the period of the future? Are we going to be driven out by these forces, or are we going to be willing to grasp them, and to shape them, and to turn them to our advantage? I think that’s the central challenge.

That means investing in people, investing in education skills, other kinds of issues or questions. And I think the follow-up answer to that is to understand the strength of the nation, which is our values. That’s when we’re respected as a country, that’s what we’re respected for. Those are the values which are inscribed both in the Declaration of Independence, and also in the Constitution. Those are the values that were expressed in the Mayflower Compact – about our sense of community and our value of being together. It’s described in the Constitution, the general welfare of our nation.

That is when we have been at our best, and I think that’s our greatest strength, the greatest challenge, I think is how we’re going to cope with the central challenges of a rapidly changing world.

And I think the other great challenge is how we’re going to maintain this strength of sense of community, and value which has been such a compelling force in the shaping of our own lives, and also in shaping the lives of the nation.

Question: How do we determine who becomes an American?

Ted Kennedy: Well the great dilemma – looking at this sort of globally for a moment – is that on the one side, you had people that –

What are the values that Americans care very much about? They care about people that work very hard. They care about people that care about their families. They care about people that have a faith, and an understanding of their faith. And they care very much about people that want to contribute and make America great in terms of the future.

It so happens that those values are so often the values of the immigrants that were coming here.

What you had on the other side of the coin is this enormous magnet of the American economy drawing those individuals here. And those people came because they were prepared to sacrifice for their families. But when I recognize we have 70,000 of the, basically immigrants, that are serving in Iraq and serving in Afghanistan, hundreds have died in this war.

And our history and our tradition is filled with millions who have made this country the great country as it is. My great grandparents arrived in East Boston at the dock. I can look out my window in the JFK Building in Boston. I can see the dock that they arrived in. I can see the stairs which are called “The Golden Stairs” that lead up into East Boston. Every one of them went up in that not knowing what was going to happen, and they were fortunate. Some were fortunate, and we were able to participate in the democracy. It’s a great gift.

I think that is a compelling factor about how we ought to try and deal with this. We haven’t got unlimited opportunities and open-endedness in terms of immigration and coming to this country. But we ought to be able to understand what the central challenge is, and be able in a humane and decent way to respect the values that so many bring, and shape and develop a policy that’s going to also secure our borders and preserve our national security.

Question: What can we learn from the war in Iraq?

Ted Kennedy: Well the overarching lesson was don’t go to war unless you’re imminently threatened. That’s don’t commit American troops to battle unless you have also a plan about how you’re going to bring the American troops back, and bring them back victoriously.

And also the lesson is from the 9/11, is who attacked us in 9/11? And shouldn’t we give focus and attention on who attacked us, which was Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, rather than diverting our focus and attention off into a different direction. This is the great foreign policy disaster of our time.

And the final point I would make is that we are effectively outsourcing our national security and our foreign policy to Iraqi politicians. We are making an open-ended commitment that Americans are going to stay there until they get their act together. I do not believe that we ought to commit American servicemen, to have them lose their lives, shed their blood in the streets of Baghdad. I don’t think we ought to have an open-endedness in terms of the American tax payer ‘til the Iraqi politicians decide that they want to have reconciliation.

Every military leader that has appeared before our committee--I’m on the Arms Services Committee and I’ve listened carefully to all of them. General [David] Petraeus, General [George W.] Casey [Jr.], I’ve listened to them all. General [William L.] Nash. I’ve listened to a General from Massachusetts, highly decorated Marine. And every one of them says that there’s not the military solution. You have to have military and reconciliation. The military has done everything it’s been asked to do for the last four and a half years [i.e. from 2003 to 2007]. They’ve done it bravely. They’ve done it with courage. They’ve done it with valor. They deserve a policy that recognizes their courage and valor, and this administration [i.e. the George W. Bush administration] does not have one.

Recorded on: September 14, 2007

Ted Kennedy discusses where he thinks we are as a country and as individual Americans.

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