The passing of "the Liberal Lion"
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar; Act 3, Scene 2
Well he's dead now, and the coverage is... actually less sickeningly sacharine than I expected.
That's not saying much however. I NEVER expected to hear the word Chappaquiddick, but in fact it got mentioned the very first morning after Edward Moore Kennedy died.
But the networks are treating this as only a little less momentous than his brother John's funeral, and even FOX is scrambling hard to avoid the impression of being mean-spirited by speaking ill of the dead.
Bible-thumping conservative Cal Thomas spoke movingly of his friendship with Ted Kennedy, as did Book-of-Mormon-thumping Senator Orin Hatch.
Many on both sides of the aisle have praised Kennedy's warm personality and capacity for friendship with people of different views. Something growing increasingly rare as politics grows increasingly mean.
Others point out he told vile slanderous lies about Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.
Teddy justified his famous "Robert Bork's America" speech by saying they needed a strong statement immediately to take the high ground while they did the background research on Bork.
In differing versions of the story, Teddy afterwards told either Robert Bork or his wife, "Nothing personal."
Sorry. Disagree is what free men do. Disagree forcefully is what free men do about issues they feel passionately about. Ridiculing dumb and dangerous ideas is what we should do.
But lying about someone's true beliefs and character for rhetorical advantage?
That's personal. And any man who is a man has every right to resent it.
Some have reminded those too young to remember that Teddy did after all leave a young woman to die in a car under seven feet of water.
Friendlier accounts mention in passing that Mary Jo Kopechne "died," or "drowned" in Teddy's car.
She did not "drown." She died of asphixiation in an air pockect, an excruciating death that may have taken hours. Ample time for Teddy to have gone to the door of the nearest house, which was evidently within eye-shot of the road, and rouse the residents to call for help.
Kennedy influence hurried Mary Jo into her grave without an autopsy. Teddy showed up at the funeral wearing an orthopedic neck brace. Apparently as a fashion statement, there was no medical reason for it. The judge at the inquest said publicly he thought Teddy lied.
I was a kid in neighboring Rhode Island then, and I saw Teddy's speech on TV to his constituents. I thought it was a tissue of lies and sanctimonious ass-covering.
When he said he'd wait and see what his constituents wanted, and resign if that's what the opinion ran to, I thought, "He's toast."
(Or the late-60s equivalent. We didn't use that expression then.)
When he announced public opinion was in favor of him sticking around, I thought, "Phoney! But he'll get turned out in the next election."
He didn't. He was re-elected eight more times and became the second most senior member of the senate and third-longest serving senator in U.S. history.
I've never felt good about Massachussetts people since.
What's my point? Why am I flogging a dead man, and possibly adding to the grief of those who cared for him?
I would like very much to be understanding of a man who made a horrible mistake in his youth, and (perhaps) tried hard to live it down and do something with his life that justified him living on longer than the total lifespan of the one whose life he cut short.
I know... more than a few people who have killed; by accident, in self-defense, war, hot-bloodded passion, and a few in cooler blood by grim necessity. Some had to face legal consequences. Some were outside the law.
All of them paid a price, in one way or another. Sometimes the legal price was the least of it.
But firstly, this was not a single mistake made in a moment of intoxication and bad judgement. This was a series of wrongful actions made over a prolonged period.
And, if Teddy had not been Edward Moore "Kennedy," he would at the very least, been charged with involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide.
Most likely he wouldn't have gone to jail. Most certainly he would have had to serve probation, report regularly to a parole officer, and had his right to vote, own firearms, practice law, and hold public office stripped.
That's why this man's life offends me. After Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon before he'd even been charged with anything, Teddy Kennedy asked:
“Do we operate under a system of equal justice under law? Or is there one system for the average citizen and another for the high and mighty?”
Teddy Kennedy's own life and career answers the question.
We don't live in "Robert Bork's America," we live in Teddy Kennedy's America.