Introducing Friends of the Institute

As a tribute to Senator Kennedy's 47-year career, gifts of $47 and up recognize you as a Friend of the Institute.

Oral History

Nancy Soderberg Oral History, Foreign policy adviser to Senator Kennedy

Copyright 2016 the Miller Center Foundation and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.

Heininger

This is an interview with Nancy Soderberg, of Jacksonville, Florida, on October 9, 2008. Why don’t we start at the beginning. Tell me when you first met Kennedy and how you came to work for him.

Soderberg

I worked on the [Walter] Mondale campaign in 1984, and when you work on a campaign,  all the Democrats in Congress help you. And I got to know a couple of people in Kennedy’s office; Jim Steinberg, an aide named Jonathan, and Greg Craig, all of whom were helping on essential American issues. When Mondale lost, I wrote to everybody and said that I’m currently unemployed, and they said come on in and talk to Jonathan and Jim. We had a great talk. I call it the sixth sense, You just kind of fast talk everything and everybody gets what you’re talking about. They were very nice and I didn’t really think too much of it, and then a couple days later, they called me and said that they had an opening. Jonathan had just decided to leave. They hadn’t told me at the time, but they offered me the job, and that was in December/January, 1984/85. So I started in January of ’85.

Heininger

And so at that point, Greg was already there.

Soderberg

It was Greg, Jim Steinberg, and myself.

Heininger

And how were the responsibilities divided up?

Soderberg

Greg was the senior foreign policy person, and I worked directly for him, doing whatever he needed. I eventually would take over certain issues, but he was the senior person. Jim Steinberg did the Armed Services Committee. Then Jim left and Bill Lynn came in, and then when Greg left, I took over and Gare Smith worked there, and Trina [Vargo] was there the whole time. It was just a great office. Now that we’re all older, we look back at this as the best people we ever worked with. You just assume it’s normal. We were all at the convention and got together, and now we’re making a point of getting together more because we’re realizing that the Senator’s illness is making us appreciate everything more. It was fabulous. Do you want me to just talk, and then you could ask?

Kennedy, at the time, was very involved in a whole range of human rights issues and very passionate about right or wrong, so we did a lot of human rights issues, trying to cut off aid to the Contras, a lot with Chile, the human rights situation there with [Augusto] Pinochet. He went to Chile right when I first got there. He knew the Letelier family that was assassinated in ’73. Mark Schneider says that [Orlando] Letelier was on the way to see Kennedy when he was assassinated. Others dispute that. I have no idea. Mark would know. Michael Moffitt, whose wife was killed in the car, was very involved in human rights. So I got to know the Letelier family, and then went to the inauguration of the democracy with Kennedy and Dan [J. Danforth] Quayle. I’ll never forget it, it was amazing. 

He did a lot of the Soviet Jewry, and I assume Larry [O’Brien] told you a fair amount about that. It actually was pretty successful, and these people that we’d gotten out would come literally from the airport directly to our office to thank him. I’d say, Where did you learn English? Oh, in a book. It was pretty good. For me, because he was on the Refugee Subcommittee, basically any conflict in the world, you had a reason to be there. So I traveled all around the world in Ted Kennedy’s name—to the Kurds for ten days in ’91, hung out with the Talabani family, and Jalal Talabani, now President of Iraq. I went all through Central America, Eastern Europe. The Kennedys also gave a human rights award to activists in the name of Robert Kennedy, and Ted Kennedy was always very involved in helping to deliver that prize. I saw Koreans who were in jail at the time I went to Korea with Kerry Kennedy. The whole family is part of the deal as well. It’s just a great experience.

I think the reason people are so loyal to Kennedy is he treats you so well. He’s respectful. Of course, everybody gets mad, but he’s respectful, thoughtful. Any time my family was in town, he would stop and sit down with them and take their picture—just that personal touch. He’s the one who taught me how to write nice thank you notes. My mother did too, but it’s that personal touch with him that is just extraordinary. The loyalty that the guy inspires is—I’m sure you’re picking that up in talking to people. He’s just amazing, and he’s the real deal. There’s nothing fake about him, warts and all. I asked him one time—he’d been there 30 years or something—and I remember asking him, Don’t you want to go do something else?  You’ve been doing this a long time.  And he just looked at me like I was crazy. He’s like, No. I asked him if he ever feels like he really accomplishes anything, because being in the Senate is hard. You’re one voice of 100 and you’ve got the other body of 435, and what do you really accomplish as a Senator?  Speeches and bills are hard to get passed, and they’re so watered down. He said, I look at it as a river, and you can change the course of that river to the left or the right.  And he joked about doing it to the left. I can see that that shift is directly related to his accomplishments and his efforts, and he just loves it.

Heininger

Did he interview you when you were hired?

Soderberg

No. I had never met him.

Heininger

So when did you first meet him after that?

Soderberg

I think the first day actually. He came by to introduce himself, or Greg introduced me to him. He was wandering around the office. It’s kind of scary when you meet this icon. I was about 24 at the time. The first thing I ever did—I’d been there maybe a week and was assigned to write a speech about opposing the aid to the Contras. I stayed up all night doing it, thinking that he was going to rewrite it. Essentially Carey Parker looked at it, and then Senator Kennedy took it unedited to the Senate floor and read it word for word. I’d never written a speech in my life. 

Heininger

Wait. You gave it to Carey and Carey let it go?

Soderberg

Yes, and he didn’t really change it.

Heininger

Wow!

Soderberg

Kennedy essentially just went and gave it. Carey, I don’t think he changed any of it.

Heininger

Well, I’ve heard that’s pretty unusual.

Soderberg

Yes, it is. I didn’t realize it, but I guess I can write. That was when I realized I knew more than I realized. He went down and just gave it and I thought, Wow, that’s pretty amazing. It’s a very hands-on office with him, so I spent a lot of time with him. He was on the floor going around. I traveled all around the world with him. We’d organize these dinners up at the Kennedy Library for heads of state, or his home. He was pretty active.

Heininger

How did it work between you and Greg?

Soderberg

Great. I love Greg. He was fabulous to work for. You know, I didn’t have any of the tension. There was no question that I worked for him, so I wasn’t caught up in any competition. He’s just a sweetheart. I love the guy. He’s smart, he’s committed, he gave me a ton of free rein to just go. I have the utmost respect for him. Actually, everybody I worked with there is fabulous. They all have their quirks, but Greg was just a wonderful boss, really independent, but when I needed something, he was there to back me up.

Heininger

How did you and Greg divide up issues, or was there not a division in those first couple of years?

Soderberg

Initially there wasn’t. I would just help him do stuff, write memos and research issues and write papers, but over time it became a little bit divided I think. I would do the Irish issues, the ethnic issues, Greg did the South African stuff, and we sort of divided up the Central American stuff. Greg got really involved in some negotiations with the Miskito Indians who wanted autonomy in Nicaragua. He would go off on these missions and I never did anything like that—well, I would go off and look at refugees and stuff like that. He let me travel. It was the best experience of my life at that time. I didn’t know it at the time, but it got even better working for [William] Clinton. I just loved it. Actually, Kennedy was the first one who told me Clinton was going to win. I went to work for [Michael] Dukakis back when we thought he was going to win.

Heininger

Was there an understanding that if he didn’t win you would be coming back?

Soderberg

I never talked about it, because we thought he was going to win. At the time, he was 17 points ahead. It honestly never occurred to me that he would lose. I think Carey called me and said, OK, you’ve got to come back. I don’t really remember. It was just assumed that once he lost, I’d go back there. You kind of outgrow the Hill, as you know. I was thinking of doing something different and deciding what I wanted to do. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. 

I had worked with George Stephanopoulos on the Dukakis campaign, and he was over in the House, so we knew each other. He called me and said, We want you to come do Clinton’s foreign policy.  He needed someone who had done foreign policy before. I’d done two campaigns by then, and I just didn’t want to do another campaign and I didn’t think Clinton was going to win. He was two percent in the polls and Gennifer Flowers was out there and—you  know, draft dodging, pot smoking charges, and he had sent a lobotomized black guy to the electric chair, and I just didn’t like that. And he was a little bit too conservative for me. I was thinking about it but I thought, Well, if they’re asking me, Kennedy’s going to hear about it pretty quick, so I’d better tell him. 

So we were riding over to the Senate, in those little cars, that subway, and I told him, and he looked at me and said, You’ve got to do it. He’s going to win. I said, You’re a hopeless romantic. And he said, I may be a hopeless romantic, but on this one I’m right. And he laid out the whole theory about how it was all going to be about the economy, [George H.W.] Bush’s numbers were inflated because of the Gulf War, and it was all going to be about the economy and Clinton was going to move the party to the center and he was going to win. This was in March of ’92. It was unbelievable. I looked at him and said, Are you serious?  He said, Yes, go do it. I’m running for reelection and foreign policy is not going to be an issue in my campaign. Go do it, and you’re going to win.  He was dead on right. I did it and he won.

Heininger

Do you regret leaving the Hill at that point?

Soderberg

No, I was ready.

Heininger

You were ready to leave?

Soderberg

Yes. You get sort of tired of the staff hierarchy, particularly once you start knowing what you’re doing and a lot of the members don’t. I got tired of the sort of member worship that you have to go through. You’d have the Senator –and oh, come on, they’re human. So I was definitely ready to do something. I didn’t think it would be working the National Security Council in the White House.

Heininger

Tell me about some of the foreign perks you did with Kennedy.

Soderberg

These are the ones I have files on somewhere, and I’m sure the office wouldn’t mind if you had them. I think they’re in my storage unit, which I’ll have access to again once I move into this new place.

Heininger

If I recall, you did Peru and Brazil, Mark Schneider did Chile, and Greg went with Kennedy to all the countries. How were those divided up?  How did you end up with Peru and Brazil?

Soderberg

No particular reason. What was the other country, Chile?

Heininger

Mark Schneider did Chile and Greg went with Kennedy to all of them.

Soderberg

It was just three countries?

Heininger

Yes. Peru, Brazil, Chile.

Soderberg

I did Peru and Brazil and they did Chile. Mark wanted to do Chile because he had worked so hard on the human rights issues and he knew the Leteliers.

Heininger

And he was no longer there, right?

Soderberg

He was no longer there, but you need a lot of help on these trips, and he wanted to go very much. He had really invested his heart in that. So Mark made it very clear he wanted to do the Chile part, and I wasn’t going to argue with that. I thought it was so cool to do any of this stuff, and I knew I couldn’t do three countries. Chile was the trickier part of it, because Pinochet was still in power at the time of that trip. We knew that was going to be dicey, and so we kind of sent the heavy hitters to that one. And then I did Peru and Brazil.

Heininger

But it turned out it was Peru that was dicey on that trip, with a big demonstration.

Soderberg

In Peru, no. There were huge ones in Chile, with pictures with Mary Jo Kopechne. They put big pictures of her up and threw tomatoes.

I don’t remember big demonstrations in Peru, against us?  About what?

Heininger

We had problems with the Shining Path at the time.

Soderberg

But the Shining Path wasn’t demonstrating against Kennedy.

Heininger

No, but my recollection was that there were demonstrations in Peru on this one. 

Soderberg

What I remember from that trip is that Alan Garcia is a big guy, and he was wearing platform shoes, and I thought, That’s just not a good sign. [laughter] He gave Kennedy this medal of honor, the highest honor Peru has to give, and it was all show. Substantively,  you could tell that the guy didn’t have a clue what he was doing. He was very young and charismatic, but the country was headed towards a disaster. I remember being really worried about the future of Peru after that meeting. He ended up coming back later and had grown up. But I don’t remember any demonstrations. If there were any, they were small in comparison to Chile.

Heininger

When Kennedy makes foreign trips, what tends to be his agenda for the trips?  Is he trying to influence what’s happening with the government? Is he doing just fact finding?  Does he generally have an agenda, something he wants to accomplish?

Soderberg

He definitely has an agenda on each one and usually was there to promote human rights and democracy. And in Latin America, this was a time—what year was that trip?

Heininger

Eighty-six.

Soderberg

So most of these countries were in transitions, and you could see the wave of democracy was coming but they weren’t there yet. So he felt putting the weight of a Kennedy behind the democracy movements there could help them, and it did, actually. He’s an icon. Most of these countries have pictures. You go into the homes and there are pictures of Jesus and President [John F.] Kennedy—still. This was really stunning. Brazil—I’ll never forget walking around these little slums around Rio, and you’d just duck in to these tiny little homes and those pictures are right there. It’s just amazing.

Brazil was interesting because we went up to Rio, São Paolo and Brasilia, so that was a long trip. At the time, the Governor of Rio [Leonel de Moura Brizola] was this real showman, obviously corrupt, and Kennedy was really good at handling him. Lula [Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva] was kind of a normal soul mate with Kennedy, as a social labor leader, and so he did some stuff with Lula at the time. He’s now President Lula. It’s interesting. I remember going to Mexico once, and I’d loaded the trip up too much, and he got really tired and grumpy. We had this dinner there that he was just kind of exhausted and I realized I’d overscheduled him. 

I remember one time I was in Israel with him, and he wanted to have an Israeli helicopter take him to fly over parts of the country. The Ministry of Defense was saying no, which was ridiculous. I mean the guy is on the Armed Services Committee. This woman we were dealing with was very difficult and he kept saying, How are we doing on the helicopter?  I said, They just won’t do it.  And he just took this woman and reamed her, and I think it was because I was a young woman, the request was coming from me, and she didn’t really worry about it. He said, She speaks for me and when she asks for something, she’s talking for me. He was so great about standing up for me, and when you’re in these meetings as a young woman, most of these foreigners—I can remember in his office a couple of times, people would assume I was the translator, and he always stood up for me and said, No, this is my foreign policy advisor.  I was 26 or something. Anyway, he was always great about standing up for you and making sure that people gave you the respect they would give a man. He was great about that. I’ll never forget him railing on that Israeli woman.

Heininger

How much did you advance the trips and how much did you rely on the embassies to do it?  Of course, there’s the State Department.

Soderberg

A hundred percent us. Mostly the embassies were extraordinarily helpful. I could never have done it without them. They had the contacts, the phone numbers, they spoke the language, they’d help you do the times and the meetings and things like that. But then every now and then, it would be run by somebody who just hated Kennedy, particularly when you had [Ronald] Reagan in office. 

He would make it a rule never to bring the U.S. Ambassador into these meetings, because he felt that they were franker if the Ambassador wasn’t there, and sometimes he just had a different agenda than the Reagan Administration, and Bush as well. That caused huge problems sometimes. The Ambassadors would just throw fits because they weren’t invited to these meetings. I’m representing the country on behalf of your country, and he would say, It will be a much franker conversation, that’s my policy. He did it everywhere. And we’d always fill the Ambassador in on what happened. It wasn’t that we were hiding information from them, but he feels the meetings have a different flavor if you don’t have the official U.S. Ambassador in the room, which I think he was right on, actually. If the Ambassador were somebody we were very close to, he’d do it, but for the most part, he didn’t. The advancing of these trips is a lot like advancing a President. It’s not just the security issues, but you get huge crowds and the photo-ops, and what are you going to do—Chris Doherty would always do it. Do you remember Chris?

Heininger

No.

Soderberg

He’s worth finding on these trips. He was always advancing. In fact, he was—where  did we see him?  Oh, he was at the convention. We were all laughing, There’s Chris Dougherty.  I don’t know where he is now, but Kennedy’s office could tell you where he is. He was fabulous, and he taught me how to do advance, and he would come with me to do all this. I was doing a fair amount of it myself, but I think Chris came with me on these trips too.

Heininger

So you would go over early?

Soderberg

Yes. You go about a week ahead of time and set it all up. It’s a lot of work. I have never been so tired in my life.

Heininger

And what kind of pace did Kennedy keep on these trips?

Soderberg

Pretty much nonstop, get up and go. The Mexico one—I think there was just one trip in Mexico—a couple of his sisters were along and one or two nephews were there. We ended up going down to Oaxaca and had all this stuff scheduled on the way back, and he was just exhausted. And then we had to go to this dinner with Carlos Fuentes, and it was a wonderful intellectual group, and he was just out of it by the time we got there. I felt bad because he didn’t make a good impression. It was my fault because he was physically exhausted. 

That was an interesting trip because the Mexicans kept keeping us from meeting with the opposition. It was still a one party rule, and John Douglas was on this trip. They’d always want to have an adult or two around on these trips, and John was a steady hand. I didn’t see it, but I was there and I told John that they called and said that the only time the President or somebody can see you is exactly the same time that we had set to meet with the opposition. I thought, What am I going to do? And John said, No, that’s not an accident. They did it on purpose. I was so shocked that somebody would actually do that, but he was dead right. 

I think I only made one mistake the whole time I was there, and Kennedy was so sweet about it. A human rights group had gotten me to write a letter to President [Julio Maria] Sanguinetti [Cioloro] of Uruguay, complaining about some human rights thing. I didn’t check it out enough. It was somebody I knew quite well and I just kind of went with it, and the letter blew up in our face, or Kennedy’s face, because it was really not a balanced approach. I can’t remember what the issues were, but Uruguayans went bananas over it. I remember him talking to me about it and thinking, I probably didn’t handle this quite right, I could have worded the letter better. He was so nice about it. We talked about it. He would never yell at me, but you could tell he was kind of upset. I mean, he would yell at you, but sometimes you know you’re right, and so you can fight back. 

On this one I knew I was wrong. I said, You’re probably right. He just let it go. Let’s move on. That’s it, it’s done. And that was the only time I really had to go to him and say, I think this was probably a mistake, and he just said, OK, and moved on. I still remember feeling bad about that, because he relies on you to get it right, and in the six years I worked for him, that’s the only time I ever thought I didn’t get something perfectly right, which is, I suppose, good.

Heininger

That’s not a bad record.

Soderberg

Yes. It’s pretty high stakes on some of this stuff, which was a great training for the White House. When I got to the White House, I was 33 and I was the number three on the National Security Council. I kept thinking someone was going to tap me on my shoulder and say, You’re in the wrong place. This is for grownups. And I realized, actually, I knew what I was doing. I think the hardest part—and I tell this to young people—the hardest part for Hill staffers or any staffers is to say, I don’t know. Always know what you don’t know, and never say something if you’re not 100 percent sure of it, and then you’ll be the go to person. If it comes from this person, you can take it to the bank. And that’s what working for Kennedy’s office taught me. You could write well, you do memos, you get to the heart of the issue right away. On almost any issue I’d figure it out. That’s why I love the Hill when you’re young, because you’re master of everything, and no responsibility, really. I loved it, and so I’m always sending students there. 

By the time I got to the White House, I was surprised at how much I knew. I figured the White House would be several levels more of intensity, and it’s not. It’s exactly the same. It’s a little more powerful, obviously, but you have real power to decide things and make it happen.

Heininger

But you had also had good training.

Soderberg

It was Kennedy’s office that trained me to do it. I waltzed right in there and just did great, and it was because of that training. It was amazing. And a lot of hard work.  It doesn’t just happen. It was amazing, and when you’re that age, you just take it for granted that this is what life is like. Then you get out of it, and we’re all kind of regrouping now because Kennedy is so sick, and having dinner and keeping in touch and reminiscing. We all look around the table and say, God, this is a great group. It’s really extraordinary, and he attracts that. It doesn’t happen by accident. He’s just a decent person to work with and nice to you, and you know if you work there, he’s just going to take care of you, as long as you do your work. If you’re not good, you disappear, but he can attract real talent and keep it. A lot of people on the Hill can attract talent, but they can’t keep it. There are not a lot of people who go around and tell stories on him. One or two staffers have tried to write books and stuff like that, but for the most part, everybody has kept quiet and just remained loyal to him. If you think of all the people that have worked for him—and he’s an open book when you work for him—and one guy out of 40 years wrote a book.

Heininger

I think it’s called always on staff, regardless of payroll.

Soderberg

No. I don’t feel like I’m on his staff any more. It’s just loyalty, you just like the guy.

Heininger

But always on staff in the sense that you still feel the bond with him, and if he calls—does he call on you to do things now?

Soderberg

Yes, and on that level you’re—once you work for him, he has the right to call you up and ask you to do anything for the rest of your life. That’s just how it is. You’re definitely part of the family. I left, twice. In ’88, I came back and then in ’92. They said, You’re going to be part of the family forever, and it’s very true. Anybody who calls me from there, I call right back. But I meant more in the sense that you don’t do it because you’re still staff, it’s just loyalty. It’s extraordinary.

Heininger

I meant the family piece of it, yes.

Soderberg

Yes, but you are once a staffer, always a staffer, on one level certainly.

Heininger

But not everybody reaches that level, do they?

Soderberg

No, but for the most part, a lot of them do. He’s had so many people. He called me a couple of times. In ’96, I had been nominated to go to the UN. My Senate confirmation got all mucked up because the Republicans thought I was the one sneaking Chinese donors in and out of the White House. It’s just horrible to have your integrity questioned. I’m in a fetal position, all upset, and all of a sudden, I get this phone call from him, How you doing?  I just burst into tears This is so awful. He took half an hour and just told me about all the horrible things that have happened to him. That debate about if your name was Ed Moore you wouldn’t be…, or cheating at Harvard, or something. And he just said, You think everyone is staring at you and it’s going to be horrible, and then I would go into a campaign group with a bunch of women who couldn’t pay their bills and they didn’t care about all that stuff. Just get through it—no one’s going to remember it in six months. It was the nicest, most reassuring conversation, and he’s busy. He’s always there for you if you need him. 

In 2003, when [George W.] Bush was planning to invade Iraq, he called me a couple of times just to talk about the UN arguments. I had written his speech in ’91, against the first Gulf War. I joked, Why don’t you just dust that speech off? It’s the same argument. And you get calls from the family, various issues going on and stuff like that. But for the most part, the people who have really remained on the inner circle are Larry and Ranny [Cooper] and Greg. The rest of us are there if called. Mike Myers has been there forever, and Carey. But you know, you’ll do anything. I’d do anything he asked me. I just think he’s great, and he doesn’t ever ask you to do something that you don’t believe in anyway, so it empowers what you’re doing when you do it with him.

Heininger

Tell us about the different chiefs of staff you worked for.

Soderberg

Larry was there.

Heininger

Larry was at the very tail end, wasn’t he?

Soderberg

Yes, he was on his way out.

Heininger

And then Ranny came in.

Soderberg

Larry ran a little bit of an old boys’ network, and I remember finding out he’d given a good parking space to a guy, and I just confronted him. I said Larry, that’s just not fair, why did you give it to—? He said, OK, here, you can have one too. I went to Moscow with him once or twice and when Larry’s on, he’s really good. I just have little patience for the Machiavellian games that he plays. I was never the victim of it. He actually always treated me very well. I stood up to him once or twice on little things, like the parking.

Heininger

Probably because you did stand up to him.

Soderberg

Yes, maybe. But then they brought in this guy Jim somebody or other, who was an older guy and just not up to the task. Ranny, who wanted it at the time, I watched Ranny play that. It was really interesting how she just got in there and fought. I don’t know if she directly undermined Jim or he did it himself, but he was so clearly unqualified and Ranny was so clearly qualified, and then Ranny took over and she was fabulous—really good to women, just great, hardworking, fun. That’s a tough job for a woman, and to Kennedy’s credit it worked. If you’re good, Kennedy will work with you and she was good. And she’s very involved with him. She’s never really left. So I think I only had those three.

Greg protected me from Larry a lot. I don’t know how much Greg had to do, but I didn’t have a bad experience with Larry. A lot of people did. I’m sure you’ll hear a lot of bad stories about him, but I really didn’t have one. Greg was my go between and Greg really took care of me. I always got along with Ranny. I just thought she was fun. You will probably remember this. Remember Liz Sherwood?  She wore shorts.

Heininger

Short skirts, yes.

Soderberg

And [Robert] Byrd said, You are not allowed on the Senate floor—about pants or something, whatever it was—and she went to the Washington Post.

Heininger

It was very short skirts. I mean, you had to wear a skirt in those days.

Soderberg

That’s right.

Heininger

You couldn’t wear pants, but hers were….

Soderberg

But the idea that you couldn’t wear pants in 1980, it was unbelievable.

Heininger

No, we couldn’t.

Soderberg

Unbelievable.

Heininger

We couldn’t, I know. I got out of that job and immediately adopted pants. It’s only been the last year that I’ve gone back.

Soderberg

Now you’re back in skirts.

Heininger

The occasional skirt here or there.

Soderberg

That’s funny.

Heininger

Tell me about the trip to Poland.

Soderberg

That was amazing. It was to deliver the RFK human rights award—what year was it, ’88?

Heininger

Eighty-seven.

Soderberg

And the whole family came. It was all the sisters, the whole pile of the nieces and nephews. I’m not sure if every Robert Kennedy child was on that trip, but a big chunk of them. I don’t think the Senator’s kids came, so it was mostly the Robert Kennedy kids, I think. I remember we were flying up to Gdańsk, and the only way to get there was to take the Polish airline, and I thought to myself, Here I’ve got the entire Kennedy family on this airline, and I’m going to kill the whole lot of them—I was so afraid that plane was going to crash, because it’s not known as the best airline. There’s just no other way to get there.

Heininger

Is it worse than Aeroflot?

Soderberg

Yes.

Heininger

Oh, my.

Soderberg

It was Poland, and back then Poland was a lot worse than the Soviet Union on those kind of things. Actually, Kennedy was at his finest, because [Wojciech] Jaruzelski was still President, and he set all these conditions for the trip, that you can’t say the recipients’ names—you can do nothing with Adam Michnik or Zbigniew Bujak in public. You can’t say their names in public, you can’t meet with them in public. And we get there and he said, We’re not going to meet with you. And we were thinking, OK, we can meet with their human rights activists, who are the future of this country, or have a meeting with a guy who clearly is not going to be in power too much longer. Kennedy said, I don’t care if I meet with him, forget that, and he just kept pushing the envelope of what the Communists were going to let him do. 

The coolest part was we were in Gdańsk with Lech Wałęsa, and outside, just spontaneously, this huge crowd erupted and were just chanting for Kennedy to come out. This was exactly what the government said not to do, have a big public rally with human rights activists.

Heininger

Did you have to worry about crowd control and things like that, and security?

Soderberg

Yes. I was worried about the security. The Communists are pretty good on controlling crowds if they get out of hand, but we were all nervous about it. This was brilliant of Kennedy. Lech said, Let’s go outside, and there’s this huge crowd gathering, and it’s a sort of situation where you see how leaders could have instigated that crowd to riot or do anything, but he went out and told stories about his family, and immediately they were calmed down. He just talked about his brothers and his commitment to human rights. It was absolutely brilliant to watch him handle that crowd. It could have gotten dangerous and it could have really incensed the authorities, too, but it was just great.

Heininger

Does he just instinctively know how to handle crowds?

Soderberg

He’s a born politician, he just has it, he grew up in it and watched his entire family do it, but he’s also a master at it, just to read the crowd, and how to do it and what to do. It was really incredible. 

I remember lugging these busts. The Kennedy Library has these busts of President Kennedy, and then we would get little plaques to put on them. I had a couple of them, we had to lug them around everywhere, that’s what I remember about that plane ride. I tried to get one of the boys to help me carry them and they wouldn’t do it. It’s not my job to help. And Kerry Kennedy came up and helped me carry them, which was really nice. So I always liked her after that.

Heininger

  Who decided who would go on these trips?

Soderberg

Kennedy.

Heininger

And he would decide whom to invite, like which of the nieces and nephews and which of the sisters, and things like that?

Soderberg

On this one, he knew it was going to be an historic trip. I think he invited all of Robert Kennedy’s family to go with him. I remember there was this big rally in front of the church where the Solidarity priest had been murdered. That was another huge crowd that he was dealing with, in Warsaw. That was quite emotional. They took the priest’s body and dumped it in the river. I think his family was there. Do you remember his name?  I can’t remember his name.

Heininger

I don’t remember his name.

Soderberg

He was a priest, [Jerzy] Popieluszko or something like that.

Heininger

I remember the incident.

Soderberg

But he would decide, he would talk it over with his family. That was the most people who ever came on a trip, but he would usually pick and choose. If somebody was particularly upset, he would probably bring them. Jean [Kennedy Smith] traveled quite a bit with him. Jean was on a bunch of these trips. She would almost always come to part of them. She came to Israel, she came to Mexico. She was on that trip. I think she was the sister who traveled more than the other one. Pat [Kennedy Lawford] came on one. 

Heininger

Did Eunice [Kennedy Shriver] travel?

Soderberg

She came to Poland actually. Yes, she did.

Heininger

Did Ethel [Skakel Kennedy] come to Poland?

Soderberg

I can’t remember. I don’t think so. I don’t think she did, actually. I think I would remember that. I can’t remember.

Heininger

And then, would you have to staff all the family members too?

Soderberg

Yes, but they were pretty good about that. They didn’t really ask much. I mean they knew they were to do what they’re told and get on the bus. They were actually pretty good. I never had a problem with any of them, they were actually pretty good.

Heininger

I’m sure that’s not the case with some members in the family.

Soderberg

They knew we were there to support him and they don’t want to embarrass Kennedy, either.

Heininger

I mean some other members in the family.

Soderberg

Oh, yes. No, they were pretty good. I really never had a problem with any of them, except for that one time when they wouldn’t carry the bust. It was so heavy. I had two of them that I was struggling with, but that’s the only incident I remember. They were always very nice and fun and participating. My focus was always Kennedy and I’m so busy, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to them. They made it more fun, and he loved having everybody around. He’s always in a good mood when his family is around him.

Heininger

What about going to Haiti in ’87?

Soderberg

I don’t think I ever went with him to Haiti.

Heininger

No, not with him. Your trip.

Soderberg

I’ve been to Haiti so many times, I’m not sure I can remember that trip particularly.

Heininger

What was his interest in Haiti?

Soderberg

What year is this, ’87?  That would have been before [Jean Bertrand] Aristide.

Heininger

Right.

Soderberg

I don’t know. I don’t think there are any Haitians in Massachusetts to speak of. Paul Farmer is in Massachusetts. I don’t know if he knows Paul or not.

Heininger

That would be such a natural connection, but I haven’t found any confirmation that there had been one.

Soderberg

No, I don’t think there is. Aristide was in exile already, and I got to know him. He knew a lot of the Kennedy family somehow, I can’t remember which one, and I would meet with him regularly about how to get him back to power. I can’t remember the timing of all this now. I think that was later. We put him in power in ’94.

Heininger

Yes, but there was a lot going on in ’93.

Soderberg

Which means I think he was ousted in ’91.

Heininger

Yes, and there were a couple of years in there where it was back and forth as to whether he could go back.

Soderberg

So, when he got ousted in ’91, Kennedy was very active in trying to get him back to power. I don’t remember the specifics of the ’87 trip at all. But at the time, it was a horrible human rights mess. When I went to the White House, I was kind of his sounding board. Any time Aristide didn’t like what was going on, he’d call me and complain. Then we’d change course as he got very impatient, because it took us forever to get him back.

Heininger

Well, tell me about the South Africa trip.

Soderberg

I wasn’t on it, actually. That was just going on when I got there, and I didn’t go on it. I had just started working there. I had been there about two weeks when they all went on that trip.

Heininger

But then you went subsequently, didn’t you?  Didn’t you and Mike Frazier go?

Soderberg

Yes. I went in ’92. We actually got a picture of [Nelson] Mandela from that trip. I think I went there once or twice on the refugee/human rights side of things after Greg had left. I think I went there once when Mandela was still in jail, and then again. And again, that was an exciting time, because they really looked to Kennedy as someone who had stood up against apartheid, and that was in large part due to Greg’s effort. That was a real feather in his cap, the way he figured that out and pushed for these sanctions. It would not have happened, I don’t think, if Greg hadn’t been as deft at it as he was. It was amazing to watch. So the South Africans really looked to him, and I think the rest of the family was involved. 

Was there a Robert Kennedy award in there too?  Who did they give it to?

Heininger

I can’t remember which one. There was at least one of them.

Soderberg

Yes. He had a huge impact on that, so for me, going to South Africa on behalf of Ted—no one knows who I am, and you run around the world in Ted Kennedy’s name and everybody will see you. It was just fabulous. I loved it. Anywhere I went, people would see us. Solidarity people came in Poland, and there it’s all the ANC [African National Congress] people, and you know now they’re all presidents. I was up in the Clinton Global Initiative thing a couple of weeks ago in New York, and they have these heads of state reception. I knew them all back when they were activists and in jail and rebels. It’s really fun, and it’s because of Kennedy, and just the name is still magic around the world.

Heininger

So, part of the benefit of working for Kennedy at this point is that you were able to make grassroots contacts with people who ultimately became leaders.

Soderberg

Right.

Heininger

And it also provided you with an alternate source of information on situations in the country.

Soderberg

Right. And so you had a better sense. Ireland is the best case of it, because I did the Irish issue for Kennedy. That was one Greg didn’t want to do. The ethnic stuff, I ended up doing. It was a little bit below Greg’s pay grade, rightly so. I didn’t object to it at all. I got to know the whole country. All of Ireland traipses through our office. John Hume had started these secret talks with [Gerry] Adams that he kept us posted on. I really trusted his judgment. I would have had Clinton not sign on to giving Gerry Adams a visa and appointing a special envoy, but that was before I got on the campaign. By the time I got there in June he had already committed to that. 

But I had no intention of doing anything about it when we got to the White House. In fact, the first visa request, we just said no. And then by the fall, all these people, particularly John Hume, said, Something’s going on here. Pay attention. I did, and that’s when I engaged in the whole issue. I kept saying to the State Department and CIA[Central Intelligence Agency], I’m hearing that there is actually a split in the IRA [Irish Republican Army] and that they’re moving towards a ceasefire, and this is serious, and how can we help? And they said, No, it’s all the same. There’s no difference between Gerry Adams and the IRA, there’s no split, this is all just a ploy to get Adams here so he can raise a lot of money and go buy guns with it. Of course, all of our intelligence came from the British, and the British were too myopic to recognize that there was a change here. I trusted my contacts in the Irish-Americans. I could tell, because a lot of them hadn’t been saying this before and now they were saying something was happening. So that changed my mind. You know, you have your own sources. Government information is great, but it misses key grassroots. It’s not good on predicting the kind of grassroots changes and stuff like that.

Heininger

Hence, the CIA’s assessment of an economic collapse of the Soviet Union, or shall we say their non-assessment of an economic collapse in the Soviet Union. So how much of that was due to having worked for Kennedy, that you were able to draw on these contacts?

Soderberg

All of it. The only reason I had them was because I had worked for Ted Kennedy.

Heininger

Other people who were working for Clinton at this point, did they have the same sources of information on other issues?

Soderberg

Yes.

Heininger

So they had all developed these contacts too, before they came in?

Soderberg

Or expertise on a different issue. One of the myths of an administration is that everybody is new. Largely, the government, including the White House, is run by professionals who are detailed over there. I think the staff at the time, the NSC [National Security Council], was about 120 people, and we get in there and we had no budget to hire anybody else, and so you have to go to the agencies. It’s just a small percentage of people that you hire.

Heininger

My point is did you have a leg up because—having worked for Kennedy—you had all these grassroots contacts? Was that unusual for you to have had those contacts when you were in the White House, or did other people have them too?

Soderberg

No, other people had them. I mean Tony Lake certainly had them. Perhaps mine were a little fresher because I’d just been doing it. Of all the people on the National Security Council, I certainly had more of them than probably anybody else. It’s on such a senior, worldwide level because of Kennedy, which I think was probably unusual, on that level, but maybe not unheard of, because there are other people who have worked for people like Kennedy. I think what’s unusual about it is how broad it is, too, because usually people work one issue and they know that one issue really well, which is extremely helpful when you’re in the government, because you have someone who really knows one issue really well. But I kind of knew everything, had some connection with everything. You know, I wasn’t an expert on arms control or energy security, but with human rights and democracy, I had a pretty good handle on what was going on there.

Heininger

Talk about Ireland for a bit.

Soderberg

Well, our role with Kennedy was to put out these once a year, Friends of Ireland statements, which I ended up writing. Then when Trina came on board, she ended up doing them. They tended to say the same thing every year, but essentially, the Irish-American community was split between those who supported the IRA’s approach to things and those who were following the nonviolent methods of the SDLP [Social Democratic and Labor Party]. Kennedy had forged a support network in America for John Hume, and gave that as an alternative to the IRA, because he opposed the violence side of it. So every year we’d put out these statements about negotiations, condemning violence, and then the other group would do the same thing. So you had these dueling statements.

He wasn’t really involved in the specific negotiations so much as being a listening board, a sounding board, lending his political support to those who stood up to the violence, such as John Hume. When I went to the White House, he wasn’t initially pushing for the visa for Adams, but when he started pushing for it, it was a huge flip on his part, because he’d always kept any of those guys at arm’s length. The person I ended up negotiating with most directly in the early days was Niall O’Dowd, who was a journalist in New York. I would never talk to him in Kennedy’s office, because he was viewed as of that party, the IRA, and we just shunned him totally. Then I got to know him, when we decided to reach out to Adams. We didn’t want to have direct contact with Adams, so we went through Niall O’Dowd. Initially it went through Trina, who went through Niall, who went through—and then eventually, I just said, Trina, I’ll talk to him directly And then with Niall, eventually, I said, Let me just talk to Adams directly. This is getting ridiculous.

The thing with Kennedy is what it did is give me the contacts and the sense of how to solve this issue, knowing there is a negotiated solution here. Kennedy was always pushing for a broad, negotiated settlement to the issues and had a pretty good sense, I think, of how it was eventually going to unfold. So his support for the visa, once I got to the White House, was really a dramatic shift, and Hume is the one who first talked to me about it. He’d been keeping us posted on these talks with Adams for—well, not a decade, but ’86 is when they started, and so I knew the history here. And a lot of people trusted Kennedy, too. So when Kennedy came aboard for the visa, it was a big deal.

Heininger

So after the visa, how did the negotiations proceed? Where did Kennedy weigh in, and where was he important in weighing in?

Soderberg

He was very important in weighing in with the visa, to give him a visa. Once we did that, then we kind of moved everything into the White House and ran it ourselves, and he was an important voice of steady support out there, but not so directly involved in our negotiations to get things moving, although I think he was helpful. He certainly gave a lot of political cover to the President doing it. I don’t think it would have happened if he hadn’t had that cover in Congress.

Heininger

From what you could tell, did he talk to other members of the Congress, too?

Soderberg

Oh, yes, it’s a big issue. I mean personally, I think he was very involved in it. He’s been involved in it since the ’70s, trying to support John Hume and a peaceful solution to this, so once it actually began happening, he made a lot of calls to Sandy [Samuel] Berger on stuff. I remember when we went to Ireland with Clinton, there was all this discussion of how to get Clinton and Adams together somewhere in Belfast. I remember Chris Dodd calling me at like 2:00 in the morning, saying, It’s not good enough, it’s got to be public, because we were worried about having some big public thing with Adams. I don’t remember if it was Kennedy or Carey Parker, somebody, but they were playing a role in that as well. You know, you put a ten ton political gorilla behind an issue and it changes it, and that’s kind of what he was.

Heininger

Where did the impetus come for using economic incentives?

Soderberg

It was always part of the deal. It was started very much with Clinton, but everybody supported it. Ron Brown is the one who did it initially, and then George Mitchell wanted to be part of the Ireland stuff. Initially, we sent Ron Brown over a bunch of times, and then Mitchell. We gave him a role to promote trade and economic investment as a way of showing tangible gains for a peace process. That worked actually. When people see peace is bringing them a better life, they’re less likely to go back to violence. In that case, that’s exactly what they did.

Heininger

If you compare it to other quasi-similar negotiated issues like the Middle East, it was much more successful in Northern Ireland, using those economic incentives, then it was even in what attempts were made in the Middle East, with the Palestinians.

Soderberg

But the problem is that the Palestinians have had horrific leadership. In fact, the reason that Hamas got elected is because they were delivering the goods.

Heininger

They were delivering all the services.

Soderberg

Yes.

Heininger

Right.

Soderberg

So, in fact, it does work, but the wrong people were delivering this stuff. You know, had the Israelis been the one doing it, it would have been a different outcome.

Heininger

Well, they weren’t.

Soderberg

Right.

Heininger

So why did it work in Northern Ireland?

Soderberg

Well, it was ripe for resolution, first of all, and people did see their lives getting better. People in Israel, in Palestinian territories, have not seen their lives getting better. They’re getting worse.

Heininger

Right.

Soderberg

The reason it worked in Ireland is that there was actually enough of an investment climate to get people to go and invest. It happened at the same time that Europe was integrating, so Europe was going through a big boom. I’d been going back to Ireland over the years, and it’s night and day. It’s rich now. Everyone is going to have a setback with what’s happening on Wall Street, but I think the best tests are how people vote with their feet. It was sometime in, I think, the late ’90s, that the immigration started ending, and people were coming back.

Heininger

Coming back, right.

Soderberg

And not leaving, and that means it’s really working. I think also the IRA were all in about their mid to late forties, and their kids were making their own choices, and they were looking at their children saying, I don’t really want them to have the life I did. Let’s see if we can give them a different path here. I asked Adams one time, Had you had an American President like Clinton in the ’80s, could we have done this earlier?  And he said, No, it wouldn’t have worked. They weren’t ready.

Heininger

So, timing. European integration that made economic incentives viable, a commitment on the part of pretty much all parties concerned, that they wanted to see economic development in Northern Ireland, an aging leadership that wanted a different life for their kids.

Soderberg

And I think you have to give credit to the particular leaders at the time. I’m not sure Margaret Thatcher would have ever made this possible. I have a lot of respect for [John] Major. He was willing to look at things differently. What really triggered it was the joint declaration that the Irish and the British leadership came together in December of ’93.

Heininger

Yes, I think it was.

Soderberg

It gave a political outlet for what the IRA had always wanted, which was—for the first time, the British said that if the consent of the majority want to join the South, it’s OK, and the Irish then said they would take out of their constitution the claim to the North. So there was a peaceful avenue to get the reunification that the IRA had been using violence to obtain. That set the stage for a discussion within the IRA that there’s another way to get what they want. I’ve talked to Adams about this. I personally think the violence set it back years, but they’re convinced that they never would have gotten the British attention had they not used the violence. I’ve had the same conversation with Nelson Mandela, too. 

I teach a class now that goes through the global issues of the world, and one of them is obviously terrorism. I put up the Patrick Henry quote, Give me liberty or give me death.  If you read the beginning of that, it’s really interesting. It’s how they’ve tried everything with the British. We’ve tried to talk to them, we tried to negotiate with them, and they’ve just basically blown us off. It could be an IRA guy talking, it was really interesting. 

Kennedy’s role in that was huge, and I think when people review his—Adam Clymer, I think did this pretty well in his book. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read it yet, but a lot of us talked to him, and I think he tried to do a very fair, balanced appraisal. I think for Kennedy, his big accomplishment on human rights would be really standing up—throughout his life, but I can only attest to the ’80s and ’90s—of aligning the Kennedy name and family with progressive human rights forces around the world, and standing up to dictators, and that did help promote peace and the rise of democracies around the world. Specific cases where I think he had a very major, direct impact are Central America, Chile, South Africa, getting Soviet Jews out of the Soviet Union, and Ireland, which is a lot if you think of it.

Heininger

Yes, it is a lot.

Soderberg

If you think of all the stuff he’s done on the domestic side. And I hope you’re looking at his support for the armed services. He’s not gotten the credit he deserves for it.

Heininger

I agree, because it’s not what people think. He’s not the public persona.

Soderberg

It doesn’t make news, either.

Heininger

Right, I know.

Soderberg

But the latest one is this body armor—that came up in the video. He just pushed that through. I didn’t work it for him so I can’t really give you too many specifics, but he was fabulous on those. He really fought for the soldiers’ basic needs.

Heininger

So talk about the trips that you made with Larry Horowitz.

Soderberg

I made only one.

Heininger

What was Larry’s role on these trips? You’re aware of the other trips that he did. And what was Kennedy’s role?

Soderberg

Larry would basically work with Andrei Pavlov, I think was his name, who I assume was KGB. I don’t really know what he does, but he would basically negotiate with him directly about under what conditions Kennedy would come. The Soviet leaders wanted Kennedy to come, usually. For whatever reason, they looked at it as a positive image for Russia when a Kennedy would go, but Kennedy would only go if he got some refuseniks out. Larry’s job was to negotiate in advance what we could get for coming, and that would go on for months. And they were doing some stuff on arms control. There was a whole discussion of that. 

When I went there with him, it was the Lithuania crisis, and in fact we flew back. It’s the only time I got on the Concorde. The two of us flew back on the Concorde. Ranny actually approved the Concorde flight home, so we could make a meeting with George Bush in the Oval Office, to brief him on the Lithuania crisis. The Russians were threatening to invade Lithuania or something like that. Larry was really secretive about it, and that was annoying, but he always pulled it off. There was some concern about whether it was good for Kennedy to be working through a KGB agent, but that was the society at the time. You can’t define who your interlocutors are. I don’t know whatever happened to this guy. I ended up having dinner with Larry and Pavlov in New York.

Heininger

This was when Larry brought this guy back over here?

Soderberg

Yes.

Heininger

Yes, it was relatively recent.

Soderberg

I was in New York at the time, so I would say it was maybe—

Heininger

Early 2000, I think.

Soderberg

Yes, and I don’t remember what that was about or what they were doing.

Heininger

It was 2003 or something.

Soderberg

There was some concern at the end—is this the right channel, is this too secretive?  Should we be going with a more open interlocutor with the government? In the end it worked for everybody, so I think it probably made sense. 

Heininger

From what you knew of the trips, was there another agenda besides trying to get people out?  Was this a back channel for arms control discussions?

Soderberg

Yes, as I said, there was some—

Heininger

Communications.

Soderberg

There was something on the arms control stuff that we worked on that trip that I went on as well.

Heininger

But did that all get shared with you?

Soderberg

No.

Heininger

Or did Larry keep that in his pocket?

Soderberg

Larry kept everything. We all got it way late, and it was all his show. On the arms control stuff, he might have shared some of it with Greg. I don’t know if Greg was there at that time. I think by that time it was just me and Bill Lynn.

Heininger

Did you get a sense he shared it with Bill Lynn?

Soderberg

He would have shared it with both of us, because Bill and I talked. We were very close friends, and if you share it with one of us, you’re sharing it with both of us. I just don’t recall. I don’t really recall a big issue about it, though. I don’t remember what the arms control issue was, but they were negotiating back and forth. I assume that he talked to us about it, because we probably had the expertise. I have no recollection of what the issue was, but I think there was a public—we did get something done on that. But I think it was mostly the Lithuania crisis that had just happened when we got that. 

Heininger

What was your favorite issue you were working with Kennedy on?

Soderberg

That’s hard to say. I don’t think I have a favorite. I love them all. I think my favorite thing to do were these trips, when I got to go around the world by myself, because you could do what you wanted to do and have an impact. Some of the trips I went on were just incredible. And then the most interesting were when you went with him, because it’s a whole other deal with him, but the fun is when you get to go off all over the world by yourself and everybody meets you, and you can—now, I’d much rather be the principal than staffing somebody. But I’ll never forget those trips with him, particularly that Poland one was just unbelievable.

Heininger

What about the Berlin one?

Soderberg

He went to Argentina on that trip, too, because I remember he kept joking about this parade that Carlos Menem—who was Governor at the time, of one of the states—made him parade around the town, with Kennedy. He had to go around and around this tiny town square. 

[BREAK]

Heininger

This is a resumption of the interview with Nancy Soderberg. Tell me about your relationship with Kennedy over time. Has it changed?  How much contact do you continue to have with him?

Soderberg

Less and less. I think the last time I spoke to him was right before the Iraq War, in 2001. You get calls from the staff on various things, trying to remember stuff or look for something. I talk to Carey Parker pretty regularly. Sharon Waxman, Jeff Blattner, and Michael Myers are all friends, but the Senator himself, I haven’t talked to in a while. But you know he’s there. I mean, he’s busy, so I don’t bother him, but if I ever needed anything, he’d be there for me, and if he ever needs anything from me, I’m there. You know, it’s less frequent once you leave the office, obviously.

Heininger

Do you go back for the parties?

Soderberg

I did. I have gone back to a couple of the Christmas parties. Yes, I would usually go to the Christmas party. I haven’t been since I moved here, for the last four years, just because of the time. For whatever reason, I was teaching or something and just couldn’t make it. I love them, because they’re really fun. They had reunions, a couple of big birthdays or anniversaries at Hyannis Port. They did a couple of those, and we were really lame on the present that we got him, some boring silver dish. Nobody could come up with a good present. I remember thinking he was thinking, Oh, that’s really nice. So, less and less frequent, obviously, but you know, you still feel like it’s part of your life.

Heininger

But it sounds like the group that you worked with, you still stay in close contact.

Soderberg

Yes, very much so. Some of my closest friends came from that time, and part of that is just when you’re young and unmarried, you have free time and you’re spending all of your time there. You don’t make really good friends once you’re 30, 40, 50, because you just don’t have the time. But we were all in our twenties and single and carefree, so most of my really close friends come from that era.

Heininger

He’s devoted most of his career to specific domestic issues where he’s felt he could make an impact, like civil rights and healthcare. People don’t think of him in terms of foreign policy. I would argue, in fact, that his impact on foreign policy has been quite considerable. How do you think it fit into his overall agenda?

Soderberg

Well, I think it’s part of who he is. He sees himself as standing up to injustice wherever he sees it. And that’s not a line, he really does. So as the world has changed, he’s been at the center of the fight for equality and justice and democracy, really all the way around the world. So wherever he sees that kind of injustice, he naturally assumes he has a role and a responsibility to try and change it, and he has, where he can. 

I think if you look at his legacy, it’s for the most part being the Senator for healthcare and education. That’s that river that I talked about that he’s changed the most, but if you go around the world, there are hundreds of thousands of people who will tell you that he helped them at various times in their struggles. Standing up to Pinochet and then the apartheid regime or supporting Solidarity or getting Soviet Jews out of the Soviet Union. Even in China, we did some human rights there. Korea—and some of it is for the human rights prize with Robert Kennedy, but then he magnifies that a lot by going himself, engaging in that. 

You know, a lot of people are going to miss him. That’s why his being sick is just a shock to everybody, because you always just assume he’s going to be there for you. I think Hillary [Clinton] is well placed to take up the mantle of fighting for these issues once he’s gone, and I hope she does it, because she’s probably the only one who’s powerful enough to continue the healthcare and education charges.

Heininger

I think you’re right. Thank you very much.

This is one of the many interviews that comprise the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History. For more information about the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History, including links to all interviews, please click here.

Additional Resources