A mark of political civility: One of the most inspiring things about the eulogies to Senator Edward Kennedy were the tributes coming from Republican Senators Orin Hatch, John McCain, and Mitch McConnell, Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, and Kennedy's Democratic opponent in 1980, President Jimmy Carter. One measure of a man is what your most respected adversaries say about you.
"What Sen. Kennedy profoundly understood was that we are a nation of incrementalists who like our progress in bite-size pieces," said Kenneth M. Duberstein, a former chief of staff in the Reagan White House. "He made the art of compromise not a four-letter word and yet, for many [outside Congress] it is."
Rising above political caricature to try to truly listen and understand where a person is coming from politically is more difficult than it used to be. But I was impressed by the statements of various political adversaries, including Joe Biden, after the death of Jesse Helms in 2008. As I wrote then, Helms' memorial service revealed a man of considerable complexity, not a cardboard cutout of a racist.
The more political civility people of different ideologies can show each other, the better. As Ted Kennedy Jr. said in his eulogy to his father:
He once told me, he said, 'Teddy, Republicans love this country just as much as I do.' I think that he felt like he had something in common with his Republican counterparts, the vagueries of public opinion, the constant scrutiny of the press, the endless campaigning for the next election. But most of all, the incredible shared sacrifice that being in public life demands.He understood the hardship that politics has on a family and the hard work and commitment that it requires. He often brought his Republican colleagues home for dinner and he believed in developing personal relationships and honoring differences.And one of the wonderful experiences that I will remember today is how many of his Republican colleagues are sitting here right before him. That's a true testament to the man.And he always told me that -- always be ready to compromise, but never compromise on your principles. He was an idealist and a pragmatist. He was restless, but patient. When he learned that a survey of Republican senators named him the Democratic legislator they most wanted to work with, and that John McCain called him the single most effective member of the U.S. Senate, he was so proud, because he considered the combination of accolades from your supporters and respect from your sometime political adversaries as one of the ultimate goals of a successful political life.