Emotional Biden remembers Kennedy

The vice president gets choked up while giving a sad, sweet speech about his colleague and friend

Published August 26, 2009 4:45PM (EDT)

Wednesday morning, Vice President Biden was at the Department of Energy, where he was supposed to give a speech about energy policy. The death of Sen. Ted Kennedy changed that, however, as an emotional Biden instead spoke about the loss of his friend and colleague, and what the senator had meant to him.

"We lost a truly remarkable man," Biden said. "To paraphrase Shakespeare, I don't think we shall ever see his like again."

The vice president seemed to be speaking off the cuff, a habit that famously gets him in trouble -- but not this time. The speech, instead, was heartfelt and heart-wrenching, a story of Kennedy as a politician and as a man, and Biden occasionally had to pause, overcome with emotion. A video of Biden speaking is below; an excerpt of his remarks follows.

Biden's remarks:

You know, Teddy spent a lifetime working for a fair and more just America. And for 36 years, I had the privilege of going to work every day and literally -- not figuratively -- sitting next to him and being a witness to history every single day the Senate was in session.

I sat with him on the Senate floor in the same aisle. I sat with him on the Judiciary Committee physically next to him. And I sat with him in the caucuses. And it was in that process -- every day I was with him -- and this is going to sound strange, but he restored my sense of idealism and my faith in possibilities of what this country could do.

He and I were talking after his diagnosis, and I said, "You know, I think you're the only other person I've met who, like me, is more optimistic, more enthusiastic, more idealistic, sees greater possibilities after 36 years than when we were elected."

He was 30 years old when he was elected. I was 29 years old. And you'd think that would be the peak of our idealism, but I genuinely feel more optimistic about the prospects for my country today than I did -- have at any time in my life. And it was infectious when you were with him. You could see it -- those of you who knew him and those of you who didn't know him -- you could just see it in the nature of his -- the debate, in the nature of his embrace, in the nature of how he, every single day, attacked these problems.

And, you know, he was never defeatist. He never was petty. Never was petty. He was never small. And in the process of his doing, he made everybody he worked with bigger; both his adversaries as well as his allies.

Don't you find it remarkable that one of the most partisan, liberal men in the last century serving in the Senate had so many of his -- so many of his foes embrace him because they know he made them bigger? He made them more graceful by the way in which he conducted himself.

You know, he changed the circumstances of tens of millions of Americans in the literal sense; literally, literally changed the circumstances. He changed, also, another aspect of it as I observed about him. He changed not only the physical circumstance; he changed how they looked at themselves and how they looked at one another.

That's a remarkable -- a remarkable contribution for any man or woman to make and for the hundreds, if not thousands, of us who got to know him personally. He actually -- how can I say it? He altered our lives as well. Through the grace of God and an accident of history, I was privileged to be one of those people. And every important event in my adult life, as I looked back this morning in talking to Vicki, every single one, he was there. He was there to encourage, to counsel, to be empathetic, to lift up.

From 1972, as a 29-year-old kid with three weeks left to go in a campaign, him showing up at the Delaware Armory in the middle of what we call Little Italy, would never vote nationally for a Democrat, I won by 3,100 votes and got 85 percent of the vote in that district or something to that effect. I literally would not be standing here were it not for Teddy Kennedy -- not figuratively. It's not hyperbole. Literally.

He was there -- he stood with me when my wife and daughter were killed in an accident. He was on the phone with me literally every day in the hospital when my two children were attempting, and God willing, got -- thankfully -- survived very serious injuries.

I'd turn around and there would be some specialist from Massachusetts -- a doc I never even asked for -- literally sitting in the room with me.

You know, it's not just me that he affected like that. It's hundreds upon hundreds of people.

I was talking with Vicki this morning, and she said -- she said, "He was ready to go, Joe, but we were not ready to let him go." He's left a great void in our public life and a hole in the hearts of millions of Americans and hundreds of us who were affected by his personal touch throughout our lives; people like me who came to rely on him. He was kind of like an anchor.

And unlike many important people in my 38 years I've had the privilege of knowing, the unique thing about Teddy was it was never about him. It was always about you. It was never about him. There were people I admire, great women and women, but at the end of the day, it gets down to being about them. With Teddy, it was never about him.

Well, today, we lost a truly remarkable man. To paraphrase Shakespeare, I don't think we shall ever see his like again. I think the legacy he left was not just with the landmark legislation he passed but in how he helped people look at themselves and look at one another.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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