The Kennedy equation

by Brian Clarey

The Kennedy equation

When Sen. Edward Kennedy passed last week the accolades came pouring in from all quarters, including gushing remarks in the New York Times, conferring on him the mantle of the last of the New Deal liberals, and from President Obama, who called him “the greatest US Senator of all time.” Even we, who were often fans of the late senator, find that to be a bit much. You won’t find any revisionist history of Ted Kennedy in this space. But when we look at him honestly and unflinchingly, weighing both the aggravating and mitigating circumstances surrounding his life and career, the math comes out in his favor. The youngest of the Kennedy brothers, Ted differentiated himself early on as a mediocre student at several prep schools and, later, at Harvard, where he was “expelled” for cheating on a Spanish exam and later readmitted after serving in the Army, where he managed through family influence to avoid combat in the Korean War. He took his Senate seat in 1962, the one vacated by his brother John, who would go on to be president. But one year into his tenure JFK was assassinated; the next year Ted survived a plane crash. The two events seemed to galvanize the youngest Kennedy, spurring some of his earliest political victories and inspiring faith from those who saw him as an heir to his family’s political dynasty. When his other brother Robert began his presidential run in the late ’60s, Ted had actually amassed some clout and put together a respectable body of legislative work. Alas, he was to see another brother felled by an assassin’s bullet in 1968. The came Chappaquiddick, where Kennedy showed an astounding level of cowardice as he was busy covering his ass while 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne suffocated in his overturned car in Poucha Pond. As a mark of his character, the Chappaquiddick incident cannot be downplayed.He stalled, and then lied and then refused any accountability after thedeath of his brother’s former staffer, continuing his term in theSenate by handily winning his next reelection bid in 1970. But onecannot look at the arc of Sen. Edward Kennedy and deny that he lived alife of service to his country. Forty-six consecutive years he held hisMassachusetts seat, fending off all comers for seven terms. He chairedthree Senate subcommittees in his time, served as his party’s whip whenhe was still in his thirties and had a direct hand in the passing ofmore than 300 bills. His liberal, progressive stance was unwavering andconsistent, though he was not above — or below — reaching across partylines to enact what he thought was in the best interests of the countryand its people. And he pursued his life’s work more or less until theday he died. Ted Kennedy was a rogue and a rake, an alcoholicwomanizer, an intellectual lightweight and a bit of an egomaniac. But in the final estimation it must be ceded that he served his country proudly and he served it well.

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