EMK Institute

Most of us don’t think we’ll ever walk into a museum dedicated to an old boss.

The thought is odd enough that when I actually walked into the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Study of the Senate it hit me only when I was half way through the tour of the almost completed building that this was history, and not just any old boss.

Kennedy had a vision, and a passion, for telling the story of our democracy and it’s brilliant conception and continued deliberation of the great issues facing the nation.

The Senate, the most exclusive of clubs, product of the grand compromise between the populous and not so populous states, was designed to be ponderous, or deliberate, and it shines here, on Columbia Point, next to his brothers’ Library.

From the moment you walk in and get your IPad to guide you through the tour to the time you find yourself on the floor of the meticulously replicated Senate chamber voting on an important historical issue, you are taken in, and become a decision maker in our democracy.  And the great issues of the country were decided in the Senate. The deliberations could be ugly and they could be triumphant. This body, conceived as a check on the more raucous House of Representatives, is largely where big national issues are concluded.

It is right that we have a space dedicated just to it, and it is our good fortune that it is here, in Boston. It could be anywhere, such is the impact of individual senators and the outsized power some yielded. But the dream of Senator Kennedy, the “Lion of the Senate”, is brought to life next to his brother’s Presidential library. Side by side, the study of two co-equal branches of government.

Ted Kennedy loved the Senate. Of course he would have loved to have been president, but he always thrived in the deliberations on the issues before the body, great and small.

Half way through the tour of the Institute I’m in a replica of Senator Kennedy’s Washington DC office. It’s familiar to me, though I haven’t been in the real office for five years, and this office’s access is restricted by glass barriers. It has been meticulously recreated. Everything is familiar.

I ask about a photo of his boat, the Mya, taken in front of the JFK aircraft carrier, which I had helped arrange, and I remembered being on the wall. It’s pointed out to me and I start to tell the story behind the picture.

I’m looking at the photo, remembering out loud, and then I look at the four young museum staffers looking at me, and I feel old. They encourage me to go on, and I feel even older.

Museums are for the examination of artifacts, what we can learn from them. We can learn a lot from examining the legislative life of Edward Kennedy, but his Institute tests the thinking of future leaders, giving them real time experiences, testing them in the rarest of real world deliberative settings.

Senator Kennedy valued the past. His could have lived out his life basking in his family’s and his accomplishments. He didn’t. He died in the public service, and he leaves us a legacy next to his brothers, on Columbia Point, focused on study and instruction.

There is an outer office to the senator’s DC replica, and former staff have been invited to staff it. I look forward to doing so, to return to why I love our country and our government, back to listening to real family problems, and to trying to help solve them.


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