Edward Kennedy: Behind Enemy Lines
I know we begin with certain disagreements; I strongly suspect that at the end of the evening some of our disagreements will remain. But I also hope that tonight and in the months and years ahead, we will always respect the right of others to differ -- that we will never lose sight of our own fallibility -- that we will view ourselves with a sense of perspective and a sense of humor. 1
In a speech that reporters variously called "improbable" and the equivalent of a "liberal Daniel venturing into a den of conservative lions," Senator Edward Kennedy addressed over 5, 000 people at arch-conservative Liberty Baptist College in 1983. Reverend Jerry Falwell, the television evangelist and minister of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, built the school in 1971, partly to combat the kind of political liberalism personified by the Massachusetts senator. A page-one headline in the Los Angeles Times the day after the address proclaimed "Kennedy Lectures Falwell," and scores of newspapers and broadcasters followed suit with stories of this unlikely encounter. Seldom had a public event featured a speaker and audience separated by so wide an ideological gulf. With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, fundamentalist politicians gained a sympathetic advocate in the federal government. Opposed to almost everything advocated by many of them, Kennedy repeatedly challenged their political agenda that included federal support for school prayer, restrictions on abortions, increased military spending, and tax credits for private schools.
The invitation to address the college was triggered by an accident. A mass