No family has dominated American politics more in this century than the Kennedys, a clan which influenced the shaping of a nation to a degree rarely matched.
The first Irish Catholic family to reach the pinnacle of success in the U.S. and rule supreme on the blue-blooded Capitol Hill still generates a media frenzy throughout the country, 34 years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy
The patriarch of the Kennedy clan is Senator Edward Kennedy, whose political credentials are impeccable when it comes to Irish issues. The art of the deal comes to Senator Kennedy as naturally as breathing, and he has survived in the cut-throat world of Washington where many others failed to make their mark.
At first in the shadow of his two charismatic older brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, Senator Kennedy came to national attention when he delivered the eulogy at Robert Kennedy’s funeral, a mere five years after the president was assassinated in Dallas. Describing his brother’s life in New York’s St. Patrick Cathedral, Edward Kennedy quoted from Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream things that never were and ask why not.”
As the only surviving son of Rose and Joseph Kennedy, Edward stepped forward to don the mantle of scion of the most famous family of American politics. At age 30 he was elected in 1962 to the Senate seat vacated by his brother when he became president. He still holds the Massachusetts seat, and was reelected every time.
In the ensuing years Senator Kennedy’s record of legislation far surpassed that of both of his brothers, but his own bid to become president failed in 1980. Adrift in a sea of bad press for years, Senator Kennedy has overcome his detractors to carve out an extraordinary legislative career. Although scorned as too liberal in some quarters, Kennedy’s advocacy has always primarily been on behalf of the poor, the elderly, and the handicapped. Over the past 35 years almost all significant legislation which affected these groups has had the Kennedy stamp on it.
Senator Kennedy has never forgotten his family’s Irish roots, and for years has been a proponent of Irish issues in Washington. His involvement became apparent when he championed the cause of the International Fund for Ireland, an annual appropriation of U.S. funds to benefit disadvantaged areas in Northern Ireland.
In later years, he spearheaded the push for immigration reform, throwing his weight behind immigration reform, throwing his weight behind legislation which gave legal status to thousands of Irish immigrants. “The 1965 immigration act worked in a way we never predicted,” Kennedy explained. “It was a good act in the sense that it helped ethnic groups from nations that had suffered under racial bias but it put restrictions on nations like Ireland. During the 19702 there was an average of only about 1,000 visas a year from Ireland. In was strongly committed to changing that. The gates are swinging open again as they should be.”