Friday, August 28, 2009

All That You Can't Leave Behind

I found this on YouTube today.

Tonight, mourners have gathered in Boston to pay homage to Ted Kennedy.

It is closed to the public, but it is still being televised on CNN and C–Span. It has been alternately moving and amusing to listen to the eulogies from both Democrats and Republicans. As vilified as Kennedy was in life for his liberal leanings, it has been enlightening to listen to people like Orrin Hatch and John McCain speak with genuine affection for a friend.

But, as I have been reading the articles on the internet — and viewing videos like the one I have posted — it has occurred to me that Ted Kennedy, like Richard Nixon, has one Achilles' heel that will be with him as long as there is an American history that is chronicled in the history books.

For Nixon, it was Watergate. For Kennedy, it was Chappaquiddick.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that Kennedy's death would bring another round of discussions about that incident.

The Week reported that "Kennedy's name was Google's top search term the day after his death, but Mary Jo Kopechne and Chappaquiddick were Nos. 2 and 3."

And some writers, like Michael Scherer in TIME, mentioned it only in passing. Scherer referred to it as one of Kennedy's "darkest moments."

Howie Carr of the Boston Herald briefly brought up Chappaquiddick in a general article that recites all of Kennedy's shortcomings.

There has been much talk in tonight's memorial for Kennedy of the late senator's love of humor. Tom Blumer writes, for NewsBusters, that Chappaquiddick was one of his favorite topics.

To be sure, some people defended Kennedy. Melissa Lafsky speculated at The Huffington Post that Kopechne, "a dedicated civil rights activist and political talent with a bright future," might have "felt it was worth it" to trade her life for Kennedy's career.

Boy, that sparked a debate.

Rick Moran responded, in American Thinker, that it was "maybe the most amazingly shallow, myopic, and ultimately self–centered sentence ever written."

Perhaps that is unduly harsh. Personally, I believe that, unless one possesses the selflessness of a soldier, who knows he might at any moment have to sacrifice his life for others, no one is ever prepared to die at the age of 28.

So I thought Lafsky's article was interesting but a little preposterous.

Especially when I consider Eliott C. McLaughlin's survey of media experts for, asking if Kennedy's political career could survive a Chappaquiddick in the 21st century — "in the era of blogs, talk radio and 24–hour news cycles."

It's a fair question. The media has changed considerably in 40 years.

I remember, at the time, that Chappaquiddick was overshadowed, to a great extent, by Apollo 11 and its historic trip to the moon. If we could return to July 1969 and everything else was the same — but talk radio, blogs and 24–hour news were part of the media mix — I agree that Chappaquiddick would be a source of continuing discussion — even as the lunar module was descending to the moon's surface.

Heck, with split–screen technology, both stories could be covered simultaneously.

And I think Kennedy's career might well have been over. But I'm thinking from the perspective of one who has just been through an election year in which reverence for political dynasties was brought into question. In 1969, Kennedy, I believe, benefited from a reservoir of affection that Massachusetts had for John and Robert Kennedy and the Kennedy family.

We may find out in the months to come whether that reservoir still exits as Massachusetts chooses a replacement.

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