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Friday, August 28, 2009

A dissenting obituary

The praise for Teddy Kennedy over the past 48 hours has been absolutely fulsome. The media, obeying the dictum that one not speak ill of the dead, has glossed over his various personal idiosyncrasies, other than brief mentions of Chappaquiddick. In fact, over the past year, they have politely refused to even speak ill of the terminal. Of course, being the mass media, they are constitutionally incapable of speaking ill of a liberal anyway.

I, being neither polite nor liberal, would like to offer a dissenting opinion.

Teddy Kennedy was a supreme hypocrite.

At Chappaquiddick, he got drunk (though he later denied it), and, intending to drive Mary Jo Kopechne to an assignation, instead drove her off the Dike Bridge. After doing so, he walked back to his motel, complained to the manager about the loud party there, and fell asleep for a while. He then awoke to ask a friend to take the blame. He phoned the police to report the accident only after he saw that a local fisherman had already discovered the submerged car the next morning. It turned out that Kopechne probably survived for two hours after the accident, breathing the air trapped in the car; had Kennedy immediately sought help, he could have saved her life.

For his crime of reckless endangerment and leaving the scene of an accident, he received a suspended sentence.

Five years later, when President Ford pardoned ex-President Nixon, Kennedy thundered on the floor of the Senate, "Is there one standard of justice for the common man and another for the rich and powerful?!"

During the 1970's, Kennedy came down solidly on the side of Judge Garrity, who ruled that schoolchildren from South Boston be bused to Roxbury, and vice versa, to achieve racial integration.

Kennedy, of course, would never have dreamed of putting his own children into the majority black Washington DC public school system. Instead he sent Edward Jr. to St. Albans, and Patrick to Phillips Academy Andover.

Kennedy has long been a strong proponent of alternative sources of energy, including wind power.

Yet when it was determined that one of the best spots for wind turbines in Massachusetts would be offshore Cape Cod, Kennedy used his influence to nix the project, saying it would ruin his view from the Kennedy family compound in Hyannisport. (Can you spell NIMBY?)

Kennedy has long presented himself as a champion of women's rights, including the right to abortion. Yet as recently as 1971, Kennedy was against abortion. And his support for a woman's right not to be raped seemed to falter when he testified for the defense in the trial of his nephew William Kennedy Smith, accused of raping Patricia Bowman in 1991. (Three other women were willing to testify at the time that Smith had sexually assaulted them, but their testimony was excluded; in 2004, another woman brought similar charges against Smith; and in that same time period, Smith paid yet another woman a large sum of money in an out-of-court settlement to settle charges of unwanted sexual advances.) Certainly Smith's predilections are not Teddy Kennedy's fault; yet Kennedy's testimony demonstrates that his support for women's rights stops, once again, at his own doorstep.

In 2004, when it appeared that Senator Kerry from Massachusetts might win the Presidency, Senator Kennedy had the state law changed so that the Governor (then Mitt Romney, a Republican) no longer had the power to appoint the new Senator. Kennedy said that allowing a Governor such a power would be "undemocratic."

Yet during this past year Kennedy lobbied to give Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, the power to appoint his successor when he died.

Kennedy has long been a proponent of higher taxes on the rich. Yet he has moved his entire personal estate to a trust located in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, a country with no estate or death tax.

When Kennedy was diagnosed with his particular form of brain cancer, glioblastoma, he got the most expensive and extensive treatment available, at one point going to Duke Medical Center for a three and a half hour operation (as a Senator, he was entitled to free medical care at Walter Reed Hospital in DC). Had Kennedy had the kind of insurance that he and Obama are pushing on the American people, this type of end of life care would almost undoubtedly not have been available to him. Instead he would have gotten mandatory "end of life counseling," and probably would have been told that the national health organization didn't consider it worthwhile for someone of his age to have such an operation, and if he really wanted it, there would be a two year wait for it anyway. (Okay, so they're not "death panels" -- call them "death tribunals" instead.)

So while the entire mass media is toasting the Lion of Chappaquiddick, I mean the Senate, I would like to propose another toast, to the woman who gave her life to save America -- Mary Jo Kopechne.


Anonymous said...

You don't have to look very far to conclude that "the masses" are taken with celebrity and media mythology. It applies to political leaders as much as any movie star or modern manufactured celebrity.
That said, it still surprises me to witness phenomena like Princess Di, and now Ted Kennedy, mourning fests.
Though I'm no expert on the history, regarding the Kennedy family history I've also been surprised at the lack of interest in, for example, the questionable origins of the immense Kennedy fortune and the initial ambivalence on civil rights issues. Such is the power of revisionist mythologies.
Interesting post John, but
don't hope for any deep analysis or objectivity from too many others! (Especially not in Mass.)

John Craig said...

Anonymous -- Thank you for your comment. I'm always amazed by the outpouring of grief for someone like Princess Di as well, all those people who felt they had some personal connection with her. I'm also always a little surprised at how a public figure's death prevents people from taking an honest look at his life, as if his passing somehow washes away his character flaws.

I don't hold it against Kennedy that he "sinned" -- we all do. The fact that he would have a few drinks and still drive, the fact that he broke away from that party for a little rendezvous with Mary Jo. I could picture myself doing the same. It's just that he was always so hypocritical about it. One standard for him, another for everybody else. I certainly wouldn't have put my kids into the DC public school system either; I just wouldn't have insisted that other people's kids get bused. And so on.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Massachusetts perspective is along the lines of "we've kept him in office for 47 years so he must be a great and effective leader". Perhaps these folks couldn't deal with the cognitive dissonance of a more honest assessment?

John Craig said...

Anonymous -- There's that too. A lot of times Senators, by virtue of increased seniority, get more powerful positions within the Senate and thus are able to obtain more goodies, or pork, for their states, and their constituents recognize this as good for them, so keep reelecting them. Plus there's that whole Kennedy mystique thing, with Teddy being the last of the brothers, etc, which the residents of Massachusetts may have taken a certain geographical pride in.

Anonymous said...

Very well said, it takes someone with a set of nuts to speak the truth. Thanks for not sugarcoating it !

Mad Dog

John Craig said...

Mad Dog --
Thank you. (My nuts need all the compliments they can get.)

John Craig said...

Mad Dog --
Thank you. (My nuts need all the compliments they can get.)

John Craig said...

And I guess that comment needed at the repeating it could get. Sorry; haven't yet figured out how to erase comments.

John Craig said...

all, not at

Anonymous said...

As I've said before, I now think that sociopathy ran in the Kennedy family. There are disordered people within the bloodline. I once thought that President Kennedy wasn't totally disordered, but having read an article on the internet recently about him, I now suspect that he could have been a sociopath. As a Catholic, Rose (the mother), had many children (all born too close in time), so she would have had difficulty bonding with all of her youngsters, plus, if she was an unaffectionate and unnurturing mother, her kids would have suffered as a result (they wouldn't have developed normally).

- birdie

John Craig said...

Birdie --
Yes, there was something going on in that family, and sociopathy is as good an answer as any. And yes, Rose had too many children in quick succession, and my guess is, they were all handed off to nannies as soon as possible. That could well explain it.