Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Lyin' Of The Senate

There is a natural and proper tendency, following someone's death, to speak words of grace and admiration. Even if the deceased was an opponent, death tends to evoke a natural bonhomie that calls for at least muted words of praise.

For the past day, we've been inundated with tributes to the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Perhaps more than anything, it has been noted how grief-stricken his senatorial colleagues across the aisle are at his passing, since Kennedy was of the old school where "you could fight like dogs by day and then at 5 o'clock go have a drink together." In the clubby atmosphere of the Senate, conviviality is prized above all other attributes, and by all accounts, Ted Kennedy had that in spades.

I've tried to join in the eulogizing. After all, a man has just died. But after a day and a half of trying, I must finally admit: I just cannot do it.

Ted Kennedy was deeply harmful to the country. He espoused policies that have been damaging in so many ways that a full-length book could only begin to scratch the surface.

"But that's the 'before 5pm' stuff! You're supposed to let that go, Rabe."

Okay, let's do that for a moment. The problem is, Ted Kennedy was a terrible person after 5pm too. I do not doubt that he was fun to be around and friendly to his colleagues. But as old-fashioned as it may be, I have a sticking point: I just can't seem to get beyond that dead girl in the car.

"Oh, good grief. Chappaquiddick? Are you still on that? That was 40 years ago. Can't you just let it go?"

Well, no. From the time that Sen. Kennedy careened off the bridge on that fateful night in 1969 to the moment he arrived back at his cottage, 40 minutes elapsed. Kennedy reported the accident the next morning--after the car had already been fished out and the license plate identified. Authorities believe that Mary Jo may have lived for two hours in the car after it plunged into the water. In other words, to put a finer point on it, while Senator Kennedy was back in his cabin making calls to his advisers and plotting his next move, Mary Jo Kopechne was still possibly fighting for her life inside that sunken car, watching it gradually fill with the murky water that would finally drown her.

Through the rape trial of his nephew, William Kennedy Smith, we discovered that Ted Kennedy had not become any better a person in the 22 years following Chappaquiddick, either. The indelible image presented at the trial of the then-59-year-old senator heading out to Au Bar with his son and nephew, followed by his infamous pants-less appearance before the ladies in his living room later that evening, conclusively demonstrated that Kennedy's lifelong dissipation continued.

Expelled from Harvard for cheating; culpable in the death of a 28-year old girl; parading around in front of women without pants on; notoriously drunken womanizer...sorry to be so out of touch with the zeitgeist, but this was not a good man. The fact is, he got 40 extra years of life that he didn't allow Mary Jo Kopechne, so I have no mournful feeling that somehow his time was cut too short.

It's not simply political or ideological. I could find complimentary things to say about lots of people whose policies I abhor: Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and hundreds of others. In Ted Kennedy's case, I've tried to join the national mourning. But when I dig down for something complimentary to say about this guy, I'm afraid I find there's just nothing there.

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