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Reaction to the Funeral of Senator Ted Kennedy

Aired August 29, 2009 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so the motorcade will now leave the Basilica, the Basilica of Our Lady Perpetual Help, in Boston -- Rocksbury, more specifically. And they are going to be heading over to Hanson Air Force Base, from which they will fly to Andrews Air Force Base, outside of Washington, D.C., eventually make their way through the U.S. Capital to Arlington National Cemetery, where Ted Kennedy will be buried later today.

We've been watching, Anderson Cooper, an extraordinary two-hour -- what is officially described in the Catholic Church as a Mass of the Resurrection. It was a beautiful ceremony. I think that Senator Kennedy's son, Teddy Jr., he really was outstanding in conveying the love that he has for his father. And I think he brought a lot of people in that church, the 1,500 who gathered, to tears.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama speaking, delivering the eulogy also at the end. David Gergen, your thoughts?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It was a deeply moving service, one that I think was appropriate for the nation to say farewell to this -- a man who's become a hero to so many. But also the family was so deeply interwoven into this. And that seemed appropriate, too. It wasn't just about the nation.

And I think one of the most striking things is how President Obama chose not to take the political route at all. I don't think anyone can ever accuse him for exploiting this for political purposes. But instead, out of a sense of respect for Senator Kennedy, he was entirely personal. He emphasized the human element. And he said we will remember his historic achievements, but we will miss his giving heart.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's really about the power of personal relationships and how Ted Kennedy -- that was so important to him over the years, whether it was in the political or whether it was -- in the personal realm. And also Teddy Jr. talking about the lessons his father taught him, the ability to transform loss into something good, into something important.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought the presence was often like pastoral, as much as anything else. He was acting as sort of a national pastor. And he also sounded to me a little nostalgic for the old Washington, where people sort of got along better and did that. Was that your impression, because that's more your line of work than mine. ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely, in terms of he recognizes time and place. So I never thought he would use the moment as a political moment. And he also kept bringing us back to the personal nature of Senator Ted Kennedy, as opposed to the legislative accomplishments. He mentioned that.

But it really was -- even the give and take, when it comes to other senators, the cookies, the cigar, things along those lines, gives you a sense of the person Senator Ted Kennedy I thought was important.

On one note that's interesting, we always respond to children differently. The political angle, though, came from the kids.

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There's no question that was not an accident. It was Kennedy-esque. Let's face it. It was the torch being passed. It was the youngest generation, all of the grandchildren, giving remarks that their grandfather or their great uncle had given, including health care, that universal health care is not a privilege, it is a right.

COOPER: I was curious to see who in the audience actually sort of affirmed that line. There was sort of a call and a response. I'm not sure all the Republicans in that crowd would have said amen to that.

BORGER: To echo what Roland is saying about President Obama, he spoke about a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots. And that's what Ted Kennedy also represented. And it was clear, I think, that Obama may long for that, to a certain degree.

MARTIN: He may long for, but I think he also is going to realize that when it comes to the fights, he's about to get down and dirty in a serious fight. So he may long for it, but that day has frankly passed.

BLITZER: Ed Rollins, what did you think of this two-hour mass?

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It was a beautiful service. And I go back to the point I made earlier about friends, family, faith, the cardinal, this mass -- this was a man who, obviously, in this course of his life, never gave up on his faith. He never gave up on his friends. I think the comments of his young son, who talked about as a crippled young man who can't get up the hill, and tell him, keep trying -- I think those are words I will remember out of all of this weekend.

And I think the bottom line, my feeling, is this is a man who lived his life well, with many, many very difficult times, and made a tremendous contribution to his country, and to his family.

MARTIN: Jim Valvano, when he gave that speech at ESPN, he said, never give up, never give up. You saw it last night with Joe Kennedy. You heard it with Ted Kennedy. I think that can also be -- if you want to talk political, that can be used, frankly, I think, as a rallying cry to those who believe in his issue, that it might look difficult, you might see failure, but you can still move forward. You can still win.

GERGEN: The biggest surprise to me continues to be, I thought that he would come back to the dream, the political dream, the kind of society that Ted Kennedy wanted to create, and said we must not let this dream die. I thought that's where he was going to go. Instead, he drew the lesson of his life to be very personal about how one individual should live their life, be kind to others. They called him this kind and loving hero. Rather than going ...

CARVILLE: It was pastoral. I would say -- a clergyman thing. The other thing is today was a funeral. It was said. Last night, it was different. But today, it was -- a church does that magnificently.

MARTIN: Rain, overcast, all of that sort of speaks to it.

BLITZER: That motorcade is now beginning to leave the Basilica and head over to Hanson Air Force, outside of Boston, to continue the journey to the nation's capital.

There will be a very moving ceremony on the steps of the United States Senate later this afternoon, after the casket arrives at Andrews Air Force Base. And there's another motorcade to take them into Washington. It will stop at the U.S. Capitol. On the steps will be so many of the staffers, the family, the friends of Senator Kennedy. They will have a prayer there.

Dana Bash, walk us through what's going to happen on the steps of the Capitol later today.

BASH: Well, an invitation went out for several groups of people. First, just the general public, but more specifically, Senator Kennedy's current staff and former staff. There are going to be a couple of steps at the bottom, right in front of the Senate, and that will be reserved for those staffers.

And it will be quite emotional, because, as we heard in several of the eulogies today, Senator Kennedy's staff, which spanned almost 50 years, was part of his extended family. And it was a very big extended family. So we expect there to be prayer. We expect the people who are on that -- on those steps to sing "God Bless America," which is very odd. The last time we remember "God Bless America" being sung there was after 9/11.

So that's going to be a scene that will no doubt be quite emotional. And the family members we expect to get out of the vehicles and to shake the hands of the senator's staff, to say thank you one last time.

But, obviously, the Senate was his home and it is his last chance to say good-bye, and their last chance to say good-bye to him.

COOPER: Of course, we'll bring all that to you live. Our coverage continues. We are going to talk to Paul Begala in a moment. He was inside the Basilica during the service. We will get his insider's look at what it was like inside the hall. We'll be right back in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They're leaving the Church of the Basilica, where this mass just took place. I want to remind our viewers, tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, the acclaimed HBO documentary, "Teddy In His Own Words," will be re-airing that. It's a two hour special. If you didn't see it, even if you saw it, I think you might want to see it again. A really amazing documentary highlighting the life and times of Senator Ted Kennedy, especially appropriate on this day.

Anderson, this documentary will re-air only an hour or two or three after the burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

COOPER: It's also amazing, it's got such great old news reels and old film clips and video clips of things I have never seen before. It's really amazingly well done.

The mourners leaving the Basilica. The body of Senator Kennedy is on its way to Hanscome Air Force Base, where it will fly to Andrews Air Force Base, and then finally being laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Paul Begala is making his way to our camera to talk a little bit about what it was like inside the Basilica during the services, what he saw, the sights and sounds from his perspective.

Do you think people are going to be -- liberals are going to be disappointed that the president did not link this to health care or link this to more of a political speech, in some way?

GERGEN: James would probably have the best insight into that.

CARVILLE: I don't think we are going to be disappointed. I think he gave -- proudly as president, he did a very good job. But and -- but they got -- they surely are going to be disappointed when he comes back from vacation if we don't get some better direction there. But no, I don't think so. I think he made a choice. And it was probably -- it was a good choice, in terms of that's who the president is.

He is a very pastoral guy. He really did love Kennedy. You could get that sense. That was the eulogy he was comfortable with this.

GERGEN: As I say, you know much more about this than I do. But my sense is there were some liberals who were listen for a rally cry today. Who's going to pick up the banner and carry out his beliefs. To go -- and I respect what the president did. I think did he it with the very best of intentions. But it was a surprise.

I think it will be a disappointment to some liberals. And it's a very different speech from what Teddy himself did when he presented the eulogy at Bobby's funeral. He talked not about Bobby, the man, not the personal stuff. He talked about his ideas.

COOPER: How much of that, though, was -- as Roland said during the commercial break -- the times and the manner of Bobby's death, versus --

GERGEN: I think Ted Kennedy is so interwoven with his ideas. That's what he's known for. He's a wonderful man. I am glad we heard so much about that. But for most of the nation, he was known for the passion of his beliefs.

MARTIN: But that is beauty of a funeral. And that is it allows you to get a sense of person. For me, this was not a funeral for Senator Ted Kennedy. It was a funeral for Edward Kennedy. It was the man. Families lead funerals. So when you heard Ted Kennedy, when you heard Patrick Kennedy, when you heard those personal stories, that's what really stands out.

At the end of the day, that is really a person's legacy. You can have a political legacy, but it's a family thing that's personal, a human being.

BORGER: But I think what President Obama tried to do is tie the senator's life to the legislation that he championed. And tried to sort of weed that. And I think -- he said -- he said in his speech that the landmark laws that he championed, and he named them all, have a running thread. Ted Kennedy's life work -- and he went on and on -- was not to fight for those with wealth or special connections.

BASH: And there's time to do what many liberals wanted him to do. There's time for it. There's time for it.


BLITZER: This was a funeral. It wasn't a Democratic convention or anything like that. This was a funeral. There were -- there were a lot of Republicans there, as well, including the former President George W. Bush. There was Senator McCain, one of his best friends, Senator Orrin Hatch, and several others. You saw former Senator Phil Gramm.

This was not necessarily the moment to go ahead and give a stem- winder of a speech. He will have that chance in the next few days. And if he wants health care reform to be enacted, he is going to have to do that, because he can't rely on his Democratic allies, the leadership of the House and the Senate, to do it.

COOPER: Paul Begala is standing by outside the Basilica. Paul, you were inside. What was it like?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: As you can imagine, it was a very emotional time. And you're struck by a tableau. You look up and there's a Supreme Court justice. But he's standing with the former Kennedy staffers. Stephen Breyer was a Kennedy staffer.

There's the general counsel to the president of the United States, Greg Craig, another Kennedy staffer. And then you turn and there's basketball legend Bill Russell, there to pay his respects to a native of Boston.

It was an extraordinary testament to Senator Kennedy's capacity to convene not just those great heads of states, but really a remarkable, almost random assortment of people to celebrate his life.

COOPER: Did you -- the speech from President Obama, we have just been talking about it. Is that what you expected to hear from the president?

BEGALA: Yes. It was beautiful. And certainly, in the room, people responded I think very emotionally in the church, in the Basilica.

I think Gloria's point is right, trying to root the senator's legacy in the struggles of his life. I was also struck that he seemed, for someone who came to know Senator Kennedy late in his life, how attuned the president was to the notion, as he said, of the care free younger brother, than assuming this almost crushing burden of leadership for this enormous and tragic starred family.

I think he hit it exactly on the nail. And I think, looking around at the family and friends, they were deeply moved.

BLITZER: We did see three former presidents, Paul, including your former boss, Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton there, and the current president of the United States. I don't know how close you were to any of them. We were trying to listen in if we could. We were wondering what they were saying.

But I was especially impressed that -- it was just the camera angles that I saw them, President Bush, he seemed especially, deeply moved, perhaps even more so than Jimmy Carter, although Bill Clinton obviously was moved, as he always is.

BEGALA: Well, right. Of course, President Bush, as soon as he came to office, took great steps to try to build a relationship with Senator Kennedy. And Senator Kennedy met him more than halfway. President Bush very graciously named the Justice Department building after Senator Kennedy's late brother Robert Kennedy, who had been the attorney general. He hosted Teddy Kennedy's family at the White House to watch the movie "13 Days" about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

So I think all of those families, the Bushes, Clintons, Kennedys, of course, have felt the burden of national leadership as few others have. And I think there was a real bond there.

BLITZER: Paul Begala's going to be joining us. Let me just remind our viewers, Anderson, what is going to be happening. Right now, the motorcade is making its way to Hanscome Air Force Base, outside of Boston. And then they will fly to Andrews Air Force Base. It will be arriving -- it's about a one-hour flight or so, maybe a little bit more.

And then the motorcade will take off towards the U.S. Capitol, the steps of the U.S. Senate, where there will be a memorial service on the steps. It will be jam-packed with a lot of Kennedy staffers, family, friends, others who are coming, and then eventually make its way across the Potomac River to the Arlington National Cemetery.

There you see the Eternal Light at the burial site of President Kennedy. Not very far away, Senator Kennedy will be buried.

All of this will -- we'll have live coverage of all of it. Our special coverage will resume at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

Let's go around. Give us a final thought, starting with Roland Martin, on what has happened today and where we go from here.

MARTIN: I think certainly the outcome of the burial, but also remembering this incredible human being, and how he was able to overcome so much, but also stay focused. Like he told his son, like he told his nephew, never give up, never give up. Keep moving forward, even if it looks like you're down and out.

ROLLINS: One of the great liberal legislators of all time, also one of the most polarizing figures. I think this was a healing process. I think Republicans, Democrats all could watch this and recognize what a great man, what a great contribution, what a great American he was.

BASH: Absolutely, I agree. Just looking ahead, as somebody who watched Senator Kennedy shuffle around the Capitol for several years, it is going to be very difficult this afternoon when that procession goes by the Senate, and that huge family of Senate staff, they say good-bye to him. That will be incredibly poignant.

BORGER: For me, it was sort of the story of personal redemption of Ted Kennedy, the man with care free youth, who made some mistakes and through, what he said to his son, perseverance, hard work, being prepared, managed to become one of the greatest legislators of our time.

CARVILLE: It's hard to imagine that this was a United States senator, and not a president. Never in my lifetime, ever, has there been anything like this for somebody who is not president of the United States. You just sit back and you tell yourself, it was well deserved. As I said earlier, you say, are we overdoing this? And the answer is no.

It was an extraordinary life, an extraordinary family. And it was an extraordinary service that they had. Absolutely extraordinary.

GERGEN: The outpouring of public support and rallying behind Senator Kennedy the last few days, people lined up on the streets. This isn't the dignitaries who came here to Boston. The stories, the anecdotes, I think have -- and the television coverage as well -- have insured that Teddy Kennedy will now enter the public memory, and I think the history books, as not only the greatest legislator of our time, as Barack Obama said, but also as a very fine human being, and a father and a friend to so many.

I think it humanized him for -- in the public memory in ways that are very positive and that -- that will now -- I think he sort of has been etched in ways -- he was a little bit fuzzy as a figure. I think there's also, as Gloria said, the redemption story that's woven into this. It will also be remembered that he will give encouragement to everyone, whether you have cancer or personal failing, that you can still try, still climb that mountain.

BLITZER: If, in fact, Anderson -- if he did, and we believe he did, have a significant role in determining all of these events over these past few days, who would participate, who wouldn't participate, the -- all of the rituals, he did a pretty good job of organizing.

COOPER: There's more to come later this afternoon, as we said. Around 4:00, we anticipate Senator Kennedy, his body arriving in Washington, D.C. Our coverage, of course, continues. We will take a short break and we will be right back.