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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

Chris Dodd joked today during an impromptu press conference that Ted Kennedy had “the burden of serving with me and my father” in the Senate. There’s so much talk, rightly, about what happens now that Kennedy is gone: who can replace him, literally and spiritually; the bitter irony of him not being around to negotiate the final language for and vote upon President Obama’s health care package.

But Dodd’s quip got me to thinking about what the Senate looked like when Ted Kennedy arrived. Though Kennedy took office by special election in late 1962, his first full Congress was the 88th, seated soon thereafter in January 1963. Here’s a short list of some of the tall Senate names from that Congress:

Alabama’s John Sparkman; Arizona’s Barry Goldwater and Carl Hayden; Arkansas’ J. William Fulbright; Connecticut’s Abe Ribicoff and Thomas Dodd; Georgia’s Richard Russell; Idaho’s Frank F. Church; Illinois’ Everett Dirksen; Indiana’s Birch Bayh; Louisiana’s Russell Long; Maine’s Edmund Muskie and Margaret Chase Smith; Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy (and later, Walter Mondale, who filled Humphrey’s seat at the end of that Congress); Mississippi’s John Stennis; Montana’s Michael J. Mansfield; Nebraska’s Roman Hruska; New York’s Jacob Javits; North Carolina’s Sam Ervin; Rhode Island’s Claiborne Pell; South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond; South Dakota’s George McGovern; Tennessee’s Al Gore Sr. and Estes Kefauver; Texas’ Ralph Yarborough and John Tower; Virginia’s Harry Byrd; Washington’s Scoop Jackson; West Virginia’s Robert Byrd; and Wisconsin’s William Proxmire.

Wow.

Not all are lions, but thate’s a safari’s worth of talent right there. The abbreviated list above includes titanic and long-serving senators (R. Byrd), including the man who has served in Congress longer than anyone else (Hayden); past and future presidential nominees and vice presidential nominees (Sparkman, Goldwater, Humphrey, McGovern, Thurmond, H. Byrd); leaders of key, historical congressional committees or commissions (Church, Ervin, Kefauver); memorable party leaders of the chamber (Mansfield); the first woman to ever serve in both the House and Senate (Chase Smith); not only Dodd’s father, but a southern civil rights pioneer who fathered a certain vice president who later won the national popular vote in 2000 (Gore); and two senators whose surnames are synonymous with landmark education law (Fulbright, Pell).

Heck, two of the three Senate office buildings on Capitol Hill—Dirksen and Russell—are named for senators who were part of that 88th Congress. And this is just a rough sketch of what these senators accomplished. Surely I’m forgetting or am simply unaware of so much else.

Last night Ted Kennedy left the Senate for good as its liberal lion. But his point of arrival tells us a lot about him, too, for he was trained by, learned from and found great company among a group of pretty amazing senators in Washington when he arrived as a young cub on the scene almost 47 years ago.

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