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Three speeches that defined the 'Lion of the Senate'

Sen. Edward Kennedy had his share of verbal gaffes – some of them costly – but he will also be remembered as an impassioned orator.

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Kennedy concedes

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The Kennedy speechwriters over the years were a rhetorical dream team, including Ted Sorensen, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Richard Goodwin, and Robert Shrum.

The speech perhaps most remembered was the 1980 Democratic Convention address that marked the close of Kennedy’s own presidential ambitions.

“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die,” he said in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

That speech, written by Shrum, is perfect, but it was Kennedy’s delivery that set it apart, says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. “You had to listen to it to fully get the impact,” he adds.

Robert Bork’s America

It was a Kennedy speech about the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court on July 1, 1987, that began to dramatically shift the culture of judicial nomination fights in the Senate.

Anticipating that President Reagan might nominate Judge Bork to the Supreme Court, Kennedy and his staff began ramping up for a bit of fire and brimstone on the Senate floor that came to be known as “Robert Bork’s America.”

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit as segregated lunch counters … and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is – and is often the only – protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy,” he said within an hour of the Reagan announcement.

It was a first volley in a fight that quickly turned and bitter. In the end, the Senate rejected the Bork nomination, but the bitterness persists in the nomination process to this day.

Yet Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, who opposed Kennedy on many policy issues in the Senate, saw in his political opponents something precious.

“I hope one of Ted Kennedy’s legacies is that in an age of spin, he had the courage to directly express and fight for his ideas and principles…. He will be missed as a friend and noble adversary,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

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Kennedy's legacy as Senate's liberal lion

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