Let Us Not Confuse Longevity With Statesmanship
By Doug Patton
September 7, 2009
It was almost nauseating to watch the media fawning over Ted Kennedy's corpse as though he were the last brother of King Arthur, and his passing was signaling the end of a real place called Camelot. In fact, there's an argument to be made that Chris Matthews and company actually believe in that mythical kingdom. Fair and balanced Fox News Channel was as carried away as the others, just as they were — unfortunately — with the death of Michael Jackson a few weeks ago. (Whatever would the media have done if Teddy and Michael had passed at the same time? Poor Farah Fawcett would have merited nary a mention.)
Even one of my formerly favorite columnists, Cal Thomas, had glowing, gooey things to say about his "old friend Ted Kennedy," the most laughable of which was that Kennedy never personalized his politics. Tell that to Robert Bork. Remember Kennedy's ridiculous speech on the floor of the United States Senate, wherein he hyperventilated that "Robert Bork's America is one in which women will be forced into back-alley abortions and blacks will be sitting at segregated lunch counters"?
It goes without saying that for his family and others who loved him, the death of Ted Kennedy is a personal loss. He was the last of a line of brothers who were raised to wealth and power. His father, a Nazi sympathizer, was a bootlegger and adulterer who set an example of infidelity, disloyalty and abuse of power for his four sons. Three of those sons had their lives cut short by violent means — one in war and two at the hands of assassins. Only Teddy, the baby of the brothers and of the family, went on to live a long life.
But what we have witnessed in his passing is the near-deification of a man merely because he came from a rich, powerful family, because he lived a long time and because he managed to bamboozle his gullible state into re-electing him simply because his name was Kennedy. What has been sorely missing in all this is a sense of perspective. This was more than just a flawed man. This was a man who cheated, lied and undermined his family, his friends, even his own country.
Perhaps Ted Kennedy's most contemptible moment — many consider it treasonous — came in 1983. President Ronald Reagan was in the process of bringing the Soviet Union to its knees. In one of the hotter moments of the Cold War, Kennedy sent word to Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov through an old friend and former senator offering Kennedy's help in undermining the Reagan administration in its dealings with its old arch enemy in exchange for Andropov's help in defeating Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. Think of that. A United States Senator offers to help our sworn enemy in exchange for political propaganda to win an American election.
This country is not better off because Edward Moore Kennedy sat in the United States Senate for 46 years. He was unqualified when he was first elected. He disgraced himself, his family and our nation throughout his long, tedious career. But the event for which Ted Kennedy will be remembered by most Americans — and by historians, if they are honest — is Chappaquiddick. Forty years ago this summer, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne died in the drunken senator's Oldsmobile when he drove off a bridge and left her to drown.
You or I would have gone to prison for the negligence he displayed that night. Kennedy went on to become "the lion of the senate." He lived a life of power and luxury, and was even arrogant enough in 1980 to think this country would elect him president.
Ted Kennedy served a very long time in the U.S. Senate, but let us not confuse longevity with statesmanship. He died a death none of us would wish on anyone — a brain tumor at age 77 — but I'm guessing Mary Jo Kopechne would have preferred to die at age 77 of almost anything.
Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at email@example.com/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.