Ted Kennedy, 1932-2009

August 26, 2009

He was an interesting person, who did an amazing amount of good in his life (easily more so than his brothers, though, obviously, they had much less opportunity).

It is very appropriate to remember, at the time of his death, Mary Jo Kopechne who also was an interesting person, and worth remembering. I had no idea that she contributed to RFK’s 1968 speech. (It’s a good speech and parts were as applicable in the last campaign as they were in 1968…e.g., “We can do better in our relationships to other countries around the rest of the globe. President Kennedy, when he campaigned in 1960, he talked about the loss of prestige that the United States had suffered around the rest of the globe, but look at what our condition is at the present time. The President of the United States goes to a meeting of the OAS at Montevideo- can he go into the city of Montevideo? Or can he travel through the cities of Latin America where there was such deep love and deep respect? He has to stay in a military base at Montevideo, with American ships out at sea and American helicopters overhead in order to ensure that he’s protected, I don’t think that that’s acceptable.”) I would like to know more precisely what she contributed, but thus far I don’t see anything on that.

She was a Pennsylvanian, which I like, being one myself. She was a savvy political operator who was, to me, surprisingly influential at the time. Her death was a double loss to politics: first, we lost what she could have done and second her untimely death dominated her legacy, probably to the detriment of her political goals of the time.

It is part of Kennedy’s life that he was responsible for her accidental death and that he behaved quite poorly in the aftermath. That fact doesn’t negate the good he did, nor does the good he did negate this fact. I don’t know if the later part of his life redeems this wrong, but it was certainly better than many alternative lives he could have led (even taking into account the Patricia Bowman/William Kennedy Smith rape trial and how it affected his effectiveness in the Thomas hearings; note that at least in those incidents, Kennedy seems more pathetic and broken than a wrongdoer; Smith, after all, was accused of rape and has had a number of charges of sexual assault; if true, does his work as a physician redeem those? what does redemption mean?)

It’s clear that his current wife Victoria Reggie Kennedy made a huge difference in his personal stability and thus his effectiveness. But it seems she also directly influenced his legislative work. Wikipedia sez, “In both campaigns and his senatorial work, she became his principal assistant and closest political advisor.” She’s a lawyer. He wanted her to succeed him in the senate.

I think it would be terrific if she could carry on their joint work.

I remember watching his “Where was George?” speech on TV and thrilling to it.

I don’t think it was the life he dreamed of, but it probably wasn’t the life he feared either. It was the least charmed of his brothers, though, considering that the others all died young, perhaps the better phrase is that it as the least charming. It was distinct from his sisters, though they had tragedy, triumph, and service aplenty. It failed him in youth but graced him in age.

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