"And he has a very engaging personality. The senators like him. It's especially interesting to see how many of the conservative Republican senators like him as a person, because they know he's a straight shooter, he keeps his word, he doesn't take unfair advantage of anybody."
Adds Kerry: "Look at the education-reform bill we just passed. In the last days of the session we had gridlock, gridlock, gridlock, and then the rabbit comes out of the hat with Ted Kennedy finding 20 Republicans to support him. Here's Bob Dole with his strategy of obstruction, and one bill breaks out. Nobody was surprised it was Ted Kennedy's bill."
The education bill
Kennedy reaped the political benefits of his effectiveness last week, when President Bill Clinton came to Framingham High School to sign the education bill, an event that was staged largely for the benefit of Kennedy's campaign. The new law will provide $65 billion over the next five years, 85 percent of which will go directly to the public schools. Though the law sets standards for student performance as condition of future funds, it also removes many federal mandates, returning control and increased flexibility to local communities.
George Mitchell says the education bill had been held up by Republicans and some Southern Democrats, led by Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), who insisted on an amendment allowing school prayer: "Senator Kennedy worked out an effective compromise that a very large number of senators supported. It preserved the status quo on school prayer, and senators like that. It doesn't restrict existing rights and reaffirms the right to pray on a voluntary basis. We had a major filibuster in the last week, and Kennedy broke it with much more than the 60 votes he needed."
For Kennedy, it was the third major education bill he'd passed in two years. Last year, he successfully championed a student-loan bill, and he used the presidential visit to remind students of how that bill improved their futures. That law specifies that banks must lend money for student tuitions at the same interest rate that the government receives – typically 2.3 percent less than most bank loans. The students may pay it back over time as a percentage of their income, allowing you people to choose less-lucrative careers, such as teaching or policing. And under Kennedy's National and Community Service Acts, students can receive vouchers toward tuition in exchange for a year or more of service.
The Kennedy mystique has limited meaning or many of the kids who gathered at Framingham High for the signing. Many are likely unaware that it was Kennedy who wrote the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, granting 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds the right to vote; that amendment took effect in 1971. That's one reason to the president's visit was so helpful to Kennedy: Clinton's popularity among this region's youth represents a modern version of the appeal the Kennedys once had for their parents.
Today's youth, heirs to the 1960s rebellions of their parents, do question Clinton's authority, as evidenced by their audible snickers when the president admonished them in Framingham not to smoke marijuana. But they are nonetheless clearly fond of the saxophone-blowing president. The signing, where Clinton and Kennedy were able to deliver to young people news of the government's actions to expand their opportunities, represented for Clinton a rare but significant return on the "putting people first" pledge of his '92 campaign. For Kennedy, it was a chance to demonstrate tangibly what he's been doing in Washington.