Image Credits: Bryce Flynn/ZumaPress/Newscom.
Call me stupid, but I thought the better half of the point people had in praising Teddy Kennedy upon his death ten years ago was that he had taken a second chance he probably didn’t deserve after Chappaquiddick and he had not squandered it. That is evidently a different take than the one David Mark wants us to adopt.
For Mr. Mark, we somehow erred in noting that Kennedy was one of “the most effective lawmakers in the history of the Senate” who had a major role in education, health, civil rights, immigration, improving life for the disabled, and many other things besides. We should have spent the occasion of his death speaking much less about his legislative legacy and much more about his drinking and carousing, and of course the abandonment of Mary Jo Kopechne in a tidal pond for which no subsequent atonement or mitigation is to be permitted.
If someone were to argue that Kennedy never should have had a Senate career after Chappaquiddick, I wouldn’t argue with them. But I would point out that he serves as an example of why we shouldn’t automatically deny people the possibility of redeeming themselves. As for his other loutish behavior, I can forgive some of it as the struggles of a man who dealt with an unhealthy amount of personal tragedy and who spent his life looking over his shoulder waiting for the next assassin’s bullet. But, yes, he would fail any modern #MeToo test, and fail it quite miserably. It’s not unlikely that his political career would have crashed out over his drunken skirt-chasing ways if he were held to the standards of today. I suppose there is nothing wrong with pointing that out, but it’s not the only way of thinking about Teddy Kennedy’s life and legacy.
In contemplating Kennedy, his sins make me less inclined to think he shouldn’t have served at all than to think that people like Al Franken might do a hell of a job if given an opportunity to serve the public interest again.
That’s why I don’t have a lot of sympathy for this:
In a way, though, we betrayed ourselves. Kennedy violated our values of decency and justice and we celebrated him. In a free society, portraying history accurately is acutely important, as future generations rely on that information to make important decisions.
A more honest appraisal of Kennedy’s life would enhance the moral authority of Trump critics. When congressional Republicans ignore his antics, liberals can say they tried to clean up their own house first.
Again, I don’t think there’s any harm in occasionally reminding people about Chappaquiddick or Kennedy’s unseemly and at times deplorable behavior with alcohol and women. But I don’t really think that’s been covered up. An honest appraisal of Kennedy’s life is that he was a badly flawed man who suffered tremendously, made enormous mistakes that would justly destroy less privileged individuals, and nonetheless did more to promote progress than any other senator of the last half-century.
Maybe he shouldn’t have served at all. But I don’t think we need to trash his legacy in order to keep our house clean.