Edward Kennedy, 1932-2009

In many ways, Ted Kennedy was the most consequential of all the Kennedy brothers. His older brother Jack was president, of course, and his older brother Bobby was Attorney General, and perhaps would have been president had he not been assassinated. And both men have been far more celebrated through the years since their deaths. Jack’s death was lamented as the cutting short of a life that could have been great; Bobby’s is part of the low point of the 1960s, the 1968 spring and summer that cost the lives of both he and Martin Luther King, Jr., a year that ended with the election of a man who was morally unsuited to be president.

Ted Kennedy was in the Senate in 1963 when Jack was shot and killed in Texas. He had been there for a year, having won the seat his brother left in a 1962 special election. He would serve there for 47 years, building a political legacy that, in the end, outshone what his brothers had accomplished.

Kennedy was a driving force behind repeated hikes in minimum wage, creating the S-CHIP program (which provides health insurance for children), the existence of Title IX, and the preservation of the Voting Rights Act during the Reagan administration. Kennedy was instrumental in preventing Robert Bork’s confirmation, an act that literally saved Roe v. Wade. He was a strong anti-Apartheid activist, defying South Africa’s racist government by staying with Archbishop Desmond Tutu on a 1985 trip. He also worked with the Reagan administration as an envoy to the Soviet Union, negotiating for arms reductions with Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. In recent years he led the effort to liberalize immigration laws. And when health insurance reform is passed — and it will be passed — it will because of the hard work Kennedy has put into its creation.

Kennedy also played an outsized role in presidential politics, despite only seeking the office once, in 1980. Kennedy’s challenge to Jimmy Carter arguably fatally wounded Carter’s political career, but it also set in motion the realignment of both Democrats and Republicans in the South. And it’s arguable that the man who holds the office today is there because of a well-timed endorsement from Kennedy during last year’s primary; Barack Obama gained badly needed momentum going into Super Tuesday thanks to the Kennedy blessing. Given the whisker-thin margin he won by, it’s hard to imagine that Obama could have won had Kennedy even merely stayed neutral.

Kennedy was not perfect, of course. He battled alcohol addiction, and was for many years a serial womanizer, known for carousing in Washington with Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. Kennedy’s personal history, and the history of Kennedy womanizing and infidelity, kept Kennedy from coming out strongly against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings.

But Kennedy appeared to have beaten those demons in his later life. He was married to his last wife, Vicki, in 1992, and by all accounts, she was a positive, stabilizing force in his life. By the time he fell ill last summer with a brain tumor, the paparazi had long stopped following Kennedy around; he’d become too boring in his old age.

People will view Kennedy’s passing at 77 as a tragedy, but Ted knew what tragedy was. He died an old man, at home with his family. He alone among the Kennedy brothers avoided a violent death (the eldest Kennedy brother, Joe Jr., died in World War II). Kennedy’s death is not a tragedy, just a part of life. It is sad only that he could not have lived another year, to see his hard work on health care come to fruition.

Kennedy was always a passionate defender of progressive ideals, and through almost five decades in public service he was a powerful voice in favor of equality, justice, and economic assistance. Few men or women in American history have had such a consequential political career. It is a grand legacy, and as an American, I’m grateful for it.

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68 Responses to Edward Kennedy, 1932-2009

  1. 1
    Tom Degan says:

    “….to speak for those who have no voice; to remember those who are forgotten; to respond to the frustration and fulfill the aspiration of all Americans seeking a better life in a better land….for all those whose cares have been our concern, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”

    Edward Moore Kennedy, August 12, 1980

    The lion sleeps.

    I’ll never forget the night Ted Kennedy gave that speech at the Democratic National Convention after failing to win his party’s nomination for the presidency. I was staying in a one-room kitchenette in Liverpool, NY, just outside of Syracuse. It was – and remains – the greatest political oration of my lifetime. Watching the event on a small, black and white TV I instinctively knew I was witnessing one of those sublime moments in American history that would be remembered a century into the future.

    Teddy Kennedy died late last night at the age of seventy-seven. In a life that is littered with ironies, here’s the biggest one of all: His three older brothers – Joe, Jack and Bobby – are eternally frozen in our imagination as the personifications of youth. How poignant that our final image of the baby of that family will be as an old man, frail and mortally ill.

    When he first ran for the senate forty-seven years ago, I was all of four years old. Had I been writing about politics then it is a fairly good bet that I would have vehemently opposed the candidacy of Edward Moore Kennedy. Let’s be honest; in 1962 the guy was a lightweight. He ran for the Democratic nomination against another young man, Edward McCormick, whose uncle was the speaker of the House of Representatives. During a debate McCormick told him that were it not for his name, his candidacy would be viewed as a joke. It was a point well made. It is obvious when looking at film of that campaign that our boy Ted is in way over his head.

    Whom among us would have dared dream all those years ago that this punk would one day evolve into the greatest senator ever to walk those halls?

    An incredible realization just came to me: Teddy represented the state of Massachusetts for forty-six years, eight months and nineteen days. That is nearly three months longer than all the years his older brother Jack lived on earth. This truly is the end of an era, folks.

    http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

    Tom Degan
    Goshen, N

  2. 2
    Christine Carter says:

    It’s hard to believe that the last of the Kennedy brothers has left us. He overcame so many difficulties in his life, I suppose I took it for granted that he would overcome this as well. May he rest in peace.

  3. 3
    RonF says:

    Ted Kennedy had one of the more notable lives of the 20th and early 21st centuries. He was born to as close as the U.S. has to aristocracy, the epitome of wealth and privilege. He benefited from privilege his whole life. Nothing exemplifies that more than the aftermath of the events of July 18th, 1969. I was 16 then, and an avid newspaper reader who was born about 20 miles from the Chappaquidick bridge on Martha’s Vineyard, when Ted Kennedy drove that car off of that bridge. Only the Lord and Ted Kennedy know the truth of what happened that night, and Kennedy’s wealth and privilege made sure that it stayed that way.

    Ted Kennedy helped push this country away from the ideals of self-reliance and independence. Without question he recognized injustice and sincerely wanted to overcome it. But his response was to encourage viewing and classifying people as powerless groups requiring recompense instead of as individuals who should be assisted with the resources to become self-sufficient. It’s a lot easier to control powerless groups dependent on the government than self-supporting individuals. And that certainly aligns with the interests of his social and economic class.

    There were numerous good things that Ted Kennedy did in his political career, including some of the things listed above. His personal life damaged many of those who were touched by it. I have to wonder how much of that was due to seeing his brothers slaughtered, with the deaths of two of them replayed endlessly on national TV. His privilege enabled him to minimize the consequences to himself. He was called a lion, but was more simply very, very human. He professed to be a Roman Catholic and used that profession to political advantage, but in fact defied many of its teachings and worked to actively oppose them.

    The direction that he led this country in has put it in a dangerous place, a place where the government rules the people instead of the people ruling the government. I hope that it was due to genuine conviction. I hope he was sincere. May God have mercy on his soul.

  4. 4
    Lilian Nattel says:

    What a great tribute. I wasn’t aware of all this, being a Canadian. Quiet greatness. Thanks for letting me know.

  5. 5
    Ben says:

    RonF,

    I find that highly inappropriate for this time.

  6. 6
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    RonF, one of the few times we have ever agreed, at least about the death of an innocent young woman.

    Amp or Jeff, strike this if you want, I won’t complain. Also, won’t be surprised. Men are more important than women, even on feminist blogs.

    Mary Jo Kopechne 1940-1969

    I notice you left her out of the obit. Most of the hits I am getting, don’t even spell her name right. She’s almost been written out of history.

    Inappropriate? To mention the death of an expendable woman on a feminist blog?

    Jesus H Christ.

  7. 7
    Jeff Fecke says:

    There’s no question that Kennedy’s actions in the death of Kopechne are suspect, to say the least. And that stains his legacy. I left her out of this eulogy because I meant it as that — a eulogy. That doesn’t mean Kopechne was expendable, nor that her death should be forgotten.

    But while Kennedy was at least partially responsible for the death of a woman — albeit, I believe, unintentionally — he also was one of the most tireless defenders of women’s rights ever to serve in the United States Senate. Had Kennedy left the Senate after Kopechne’s death, my sister would not have been able to go to college on an athletic scholarship, because there would be no Title IX. Had Kennedy left the Senate after Kopechne’s death, Roe v. Wade would have been reversed by the Rehnquist court, in an opinion co-authored by Justices Scalia and Bork.

    Kennedy made one horrible mistake, and a long series of serious ones, and that is between him and whatever force judges us after our deaths. But on balance, the lives of the women I know are better for his having served. He is, as many people are, a complex figure. But I strongly believe our nation is better for his having served.

  8. 8
    Ben says:

    Actually, I was most offended by the phrases “his response was to encourage viewing and classifying people as powerless groups ” and “The direction that he led this country in has put it in a dangerous place”. Mentioning Mary Jo Kopechne was certainly appropriate. I apologize for the confusion.

  9. 9
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    No, not a “horrible mistake”. A CRIME that he was never punished for. If he were Obama, imagine the outcry, they would be clamoring for his head.

    I disagree with your political analysis, since any Senator from Mass would be liberal. (And Mary Jo never AGREED to die for all those good causes, you know?)

    But thank you for letting my post stay up.

  10. 10
    nm says:

    If Edward Kennedy had been elected President when he ran, or any of the times he flirted with the idea of running, he would, I believe, have been weak and ineffectual. He had no clear purpose in pursuing that goal, so far as I can see, except that he thought it was a privilege that should be returned to his family. His behavior after Kopechne’s death also was something that only the greatly privileged could have gotten away with.

    But. But as someone who believes that humans can change for the better, as someone who believes in atonement and forgiveness, I hold him up as a shining example of what I mean. The man pulled himself together eventually; and his actions since he gave up wanting to be President are inspirational. If, in the first half of his life, he demeaned and abandoned women (very literally, in Kopechne’s case), during the last half he fought for us. If he could find no reason to want to be President, he clearly came to have a firm sense of purpose in the Senate (and the skills to carry some of that purpose out). I think Kopechne and his inability to articulate (when asked by Roger Mudd) why he wanted to be President have to be part of any memorial. But so does everything he accomplished since then. Ultimately, he became a person of great achievements.

  11. 11
    PG says:

    Daisy,

    You refer in your post to Kennedy as having killed Kopechne, but that’s simply not accurate. He failed to assist her himself after causing the accident that put her into danger (his having caused the accident is the only thing that creates a legal obligation to assist — there was no Good Samaritan law), and he failed to report the accident in time for anyone else to assist her. That’s not murder; that’s recklessness and negligence — i.e., mistake. You might consider this a “quibble,” but it’s a significant moral and legal distinction.

  12. 12
    Jeff Fecke says:

    That’s not murder; that’s recklessness and negligence — i.e., mistake.

    Precisely. And understand, I agree it was a criminal mistake — and Kennedy did ultimately plead out to leaving the scene of an accident, and I will stipulate if he wasn’t a Kennedy he would have paid more dearly.

    But the fact that the privileged get away with things we plebes would not is nothing new; to Kennedy’s credit, he emerged from that tragic mistake to build a strong and compelling positive legacy. The country is better of for his having been here. That doesn’t wipe away his crime or his mistakes — but neither do his crime and his mistakes wipe away the good.

    Few people on this earth are pure good or pure evil. Even Dick Cheney is in favor of same-sex marriage. On balance, I believe that the good Ted Kennedy did outweighed the evil. You are allowed to differ.

  13. 13
    RonF says:

    PG, I’d suggest that you are correct if and only if Kennedy’s claim to be sober at the time was the truth. I don’t know about law at the time, but IIRC under present law, if he had been under the influence when he drove off that bridge he was at least guilty of manslaughter and perhaps murder. Of course, Kennedy avoided any contact with authorities until well after his sobriety could have been tested. So we won’t ever know.

  14. 14
    Jake Squid says:

    I’ve been thinking about this today and I’ve come to a conclusion. I think that it is inappropriate to denigrate a public figure in comments to a eulogy before the person has been buried (or cremated or whatever). I have no problem with posts critical of the person nor with comments to those posts bringing up the worst of that public figure. But it’s flat out disrespectful to the eulogizer to talk about the horrible things the subject of the eulogy has done. There is a place to discuss those things and it isn’t at the eulogy.

    I hope everybody remembers their own actions today when one of their beloved leaders dies. Will you give the respect that you want now? Will you condemn the lack of respect that you have shown here when the situation is reversed?

    I would hope that if we can’t respect the deceased that we could respect the author.

  15. 15
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    There is a place to discuss those things and it isn’t at the eulogy.

    Actually, most of the obits of Michael Jackson (most recent example of conflicted obits) discussed the trial he went through, and what it was for.

    What made me comment was, as I said, the fact that Kopechne’s name and the “incident” (as Recursive Paradox wrote, because it’s always fun to reduce the impact of something by calling it an “incident”) was not mentioned AT ALL. I felt that was disrespectful on a feminist blog, and I still do.

    There was a reason he was never president, and let us at least remember her NAME.

  16. 16
    Robert says:

    I agree with Jake. I’ve felt it (and said it) when conservative figures have died, and I agree with it today. By all means argue the man’s legacy and actions. Do it next week.

  17. 17
    Jake Squid says:

    I understand what you’re saying, Daisy. I just don’t think the place to say it is at the eulogy. When my grandmother died, I didn’t get up at the service after the eulogy had been given to point out that the fact that she was a child beater was omitted. I’ve certainly said that many times since, but the eulogy was not the time or place for it.

  18. 18
    YellowMarigold says:

    This isn’t a eulogy. This isn’t a funeral. This is a blog post.

    I agree with Daisy’s points, but Daisy, it’s a losing battle. The left-wing, including the mainstream feminist establishment, does not care that Ted Kennedy put his senate career before the life of a human being, a woman named Mary Jo Kopechne. You can be a “great man” in our society, even after having recklessly killed a young woman, because she was only a woman. Ted Kennedy NEVER even called for help after the crash and only went to the police after the body was discovered. For this man, the flags at the WH and federal buildings are flying at half-mast. Ted Kennedy symbolizes the way that many men in power operate. Sadly, they are rarely challenged by those who agree with them ideologically.

  19. 19
    PG says:

    RonF,

    “I’ve heard you write,” said Miss Valentine anxiously, as they went down the lane. “You won’t put the things I’ve told you in your stories, will you?”

    “You may be sure I won’t,” promised Anne.

    “Do you think it is really wrong… or dangerous… to speak ill of the dead?” whispered Miss Valentine a bit anxiously.

    “I don’t suppose it’s exactly either,” said Anne. “Only… rather unfair… like hitting those who can’t defend themselves. But you didn’t say anything very dreadful of anybody, Miss Courtaloe.”

    “I told you Nathan Pringle thought his wife was trying to poison him…”

    “But you give her the benefit of the doubt…” and Miss Valentine went her way reassured.

    When you raise such matters as a response to someone’s death, when he can no longer defend himself, you can stick to the facts that were established rather than speculating. If you must speculate, at least give the benefit of the doubt.

  20. 20
    Maia says:

    I disagree Jake. You are comparing the appropriate behaviour around the truly believed – people who have lost someone they knew who played a part in their life, and they may have loved, to the appropriate behaviour around people who have lost a ficus plant. OK I’m going to have to explain the ficus plant thing, because it’s a pretty obscure Joss reference, even for me (it’s from a deleted scene from the unaired pilot from dollhouse. But there are people we know and effect our lives as we live them everyday, and there are people who we don’t know, who we project onto.

    I agree that in most cases it would be inappropriate to go up to the people who knew and cared for Ted Kennedy (although when, for example, Margaret Thatcher dies I’m not conceding that anything is inappropiate) and say “What about Mary Jo Kopechne?”

    But leaders are leaders because they have power, and to expect those who don’t have power to stay silent on their evils and the harm they were able to do with that power is to side with the powerful over hte powerless. And not to take that power, and the evils and harm seriously.

  21. 21
    Ampersand says:

    I certainly don’t object to the mention of Mary Jo Kopechne; there are some things which should follow someone forever, even in death. Mary Jo Kopechne’s death was one such thing. (That doesn’t mean that we can’t praise the good things Kennedy did, as well.)

    And I agree with the folks who said it would have been appropriate for Jeff to mention that in his post (although of course Jeff is free to disagree with me).

    I was much more bothered by Ron’s post, much of which was generic partisan liberals-are-awful stuff that isn’t particularized to Kennedy. (Is there anything Ron said about Kennedy’s politics that can’t be said of any successful liberal politician?). I don’t think it’s unfair to expect Ron to keep that sort of generic partisan criticism to himself for one week on one thread.

    (For the record, in the past “Alas” has enforced a “no criticism” rule in one obit that I recall. But I think it’s less of a hard-and-fast rule than a case-by-case thing.)

  22. 22
    Sailorman says:

    People do not improve, lose faults, or change just because they’re dead. IMO, Kennedy was a good man overall. But I do not see why “mourning” should be equivalent to “talk only about the good and ignore the bad.” I’m happy to discuss his faults as well as his good characteristics, because I think that he was a good man overall.

    If one could make a criticism of him yesterday, surely one could make the same criticism of him today. If one would not have spoken of him in such ringing tones yesterday, one should not do so today. There often is some odd sensibility which suggests we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. Why not? How else are we to distinguish between dead people who deserve our good thoughts, and dead people who don’t?

    We don’t need to saint Kennedy to remember him. Not even for a week.

  23. 23
    Robert says:

    There often is some odd sensibility which suggests we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. Why not?

    I come to your (beloved) grandmother’s funeral. I stand up and talk about what a horrible old bat she was and how everyone is glad she’s dead. Why are you pissed off at me?

    How else are we to distinguish between dead people who deserve our good thoughts, and dead people who don’t?

    By using our judgment. Part of that judgment, however, is recognizing other peoples’ feelings and not stomping on them.

    The reason to wait a week (or for the eulogy to be over, or for it to be me and my wife privately in our car heading away from your grandma’s funeral) is so that the people who are having an emotional reaction have space in which to do so. There are copious venues in the world where emotional reactions are not going on and where the important work of judging whether Grandma was a miserable creature or a nice old gal can hold the floor.

    Yes, this is a blog post and not the grieving room at the mortuary. Yet, isn’t it clear that the subject of the post is important to the author? Jeff didn’t come out and start cracking jokes about Kennedy (in which case he would have been loudly signaling, “it’s ok to talk shit about the deceased here”), he posted a eulogy.

    Respecting that isn’t hard, even if we think the reasons are “odd.”

  24. 24
    Jeff Fecke says:

    And I agree with the folks who said it would have been appropriate for Jeff to mention that in his post (although of course Jeff is free to disagree with me).

    I don’t; indeed, I almost did. I didn’t feel it fit with what I was writing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t agree that it was Ted Kennedy’s worst act, nor that I believe that Kopechne was somehow disposable. I simply believe that it is possible for a person, by their actions, to atone for their guilt, and to redeem themselves. That doesn’t mean their deed is forgotten, nor even forgiven. Just that one moment does not a lifetime make.

  25. 25
    PG says:

    But leaders are leaders because they have power, and to expect those who don’t have power to stay silent on their evils and the harm they were able to do with that power is to side with the powerful over hte powerless. And not to take that power, and the evils and harm seriously.

    So you think Kennedy was thinking to himself as he went off the bridge, “I will now exercise my power as a Senator for harm by leaving this woman to drown?” It’s not only the powerful who do stupid, f*cked up stuff, and it’s Kopechne’s tragic death that I understood to be the evil of most concern here, not whether Kennedy suffered enough for it.

    I’m with Amp — I have no problem with people’s mentioning Mary Jo Kopechne and Kennedy’s negligence in causing her death. What bothers me are all the negative assumptions being made that do not have a certain basis in the known facts. Can’t we give the benefit of the doubt at least for the eulogy period?

    As Robert said, Kennedy was clearly important to Jeff even if they weren’t personal acquaintances. The idea is to have respect for Jeff’s feelings, even if you’ve none for Kennedy himself.

    As for whether Kopechne’s death at Chappaquiddick is going forgotten, the Google Trends suggest otherwise. I don’t think it’s incumbent upon Jeff to have to refer to it explicitly in a eulogy.

  26. 26
    Myca says:

    What bothers me are all the negative assumptions being made that do not have a certain basis in the known facts.

    I couldn’t agree more. Assuming the worst about people without evidence isn’t really a cool way to act.

    Oh, what, we weren’t referring to DaisyDeadhead’s assumption that the moderators would erase her comments because, “Men are more important than women, even on feminist blogs”?

    Whoops, my bad.

    —Myca

  27. 27
    Julie Herds Cats says:

    What is ignored right along with Mary Jo’s death, is that he remained a Senator and never occupied the White House (הללויה) because he killed her.

    And while some here are content to diminish the practical fact that Ted Kennedy killed her by hiding behind legal definitions, Ted Kennedy’s actions led to Mary Jo’s death, and her death led to him never being elected to the White House. Her death and his political career are inseparable.

    Perhaps he was haunted by causing the death of another human being, after his two older brothers’ lives had been cut short. Perhaps that’s why he was hell-bent on alleviating what he saw as Injustice. But the greatest injustice is that he never owned what he did and he used his power and privilege to avoid ever paying for it.

  28. 28
    Susan Jeffryes says:

    I believe Edward Kennedy finally did make a speech saying that he was fully repsonsible for anything he did. I don’t think he specifically mentioned the Kopeckni incident but I think that is what he was referring to. I was born in 1963 so i was what….1 years old when the first Kennedy was shot and then Bobby a few years later. I did not follow politics then or ….even now for that matter but have watched the news reports of Edward Kennedy’s death. I always thought of him as the “lush” Kennedy senator of Boston who has had a sketchy past. After getting more of a biographical story of him….i realize and empathize all that he has gone thru and had to deal with. So much family tradegy in that family but losing both your brothers in such a short amount of time……wow. That could lead the most devout Christian to drink. To have to carry on that legacy and also be the MAN to go to for all his nieces and nephews of that big family. Very big shoes to fill. Guilty or not of the Chappiquick (sp?) incident, I feel Edward Kennedy paid for that and more. He was an icon on the floor of the senate. People looked up to him and respected him. And I for one, have shed several tears at his passing.

    God Bless the Kennedy family and may they have relief in knowing their uncle/grandfather/ husband is at peace now with the Lord.

  29. 29
    Maia says:

    I should make clear that I’m not really talking about the specifics. I know almost nothing about Ted Kennedy. I had heard something about a bridge, but didn’t actually know what had happened until I read this htread (for those who don’t know I live in New Zealand). But I do think the principles involved are important.

    Those who are arguing that this is a time for silencing certain criticisms, are basing it on a comparison with the deeath of close relatives (or in PG’s quotation from LM Montgomery with a neighbour). I actually think it’s really disrespectul to grief to imply that the same standards of behaviour apply towards someone who has been bereaved and someone who is feeling something as a result of the death of a public figure. I completely reject the idea that the death of someone people know and care about is analagous to the death of a public figure that they have never, or barely met.

    I don’t think that people who particularly like a public figure should be priviledged over people who particularly dislike a public figure, just because that person had just died.

    PG – as I said I can’t answer your question about what I think Kennedy thinks, from total ignorance. But the point, from what has been mentioned in this thread, was not just that he did it, but that he got away with it, and would have very different understandings of what he could and couldn’t got away with than most ordinary people.

    But like I said, my point wasn’t about the specifics. My point is about what you are prioritising when you compare those with power with family members, because they’re dead, and demand silence about the things that they’ve done.

    And partly that is based on the assumption that there everyone on this thread would be OK speaking ill of some individuals, even on the day of their death. Whether it is the men who flew planes into the world trade centre, the commanders who ordered the Mai Lai attacks, a rapist, or Margaret Thatcher, whatever people’s theoretical position on not speaking ill of the dead I can’t imagine anyone at all engaged in this world who didn’t have some people who they cannot mention, cannot think of, without remembering hte hideous things that they did.

    By saying ‘no we have to respect this person with power’ you are making the implicit argument that the wrongs they committed are not important enough, and you are making this judgement not just for youself, but stating that everyone should share that judgement. I don’t think that’s a tenable position. Argue that Ted Kennedy is worth of respect on the facts, rather than just because he’s dead.

  30. 30
    Serafina says:

    But the greatest injustice is that he never owned what he did and he used his power and privilege to avoid ever paying for it.

    Nonsense. For one thing, you don’t know what he did–so you don’t know if he “owned” it or not, or if he paid enough for it. Because of his privilege he got a way with a milder penalty than a poor minority would–but that doesn’t mean the punishment was necessarily too mild. Maybe the poor minority should be punished like Ted Kennedy was, not the other way around.

    But even if he was punished too lightly, it’s really not a greater injustice than those he spent his life fighting. I am not saying Kopechne “died for the good cause” of Kennedy’s career or that his career washes out her death; that would be ridiculous. I am saying that a senator “not owning what he did” is hardly “the greatest injustice” and does not nullify a career of great struggle against great injustice.

  31. 31
    chingona says:

    I saw this piece linked at Edge of the American West, and I thought it was so good and gets so well at the complicated issue of Ted Kennedy’s privilege and the use he made of it, that I’m going to quote at very great length. It’s from a Boston Globe Sunday magazine piece done on the 40th anniversary of his Senate service.

    If his name were Edward Moore . . .

    He would not have served so long, if he’d served at all. He might not have served with more than 350 other senators. He would not have served with all three men – Everett Dirksen, Richard Russell, and Philip Hart – after whom the Senate office buildings are named. He would not have had his first real fight over the poll tax and his most recent one over going to war in Iraq. None of this would have happened if his name were Edward Moore.

    If his name were Edward Moore . . .

    If his name were Edward Moore, Robert Bork might be on the Supreme Court today. Robert Dole might have been elected president of the United States. There might still be a draft. There would not have been the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which overturned seven Supreme Court decisions that Kennedy saw as rolling back the gains of the civil rights movement; the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, the most wide-ranging civil rights bill since the original ones in the 1960s; the Kennedy-Kassebaum Bill of 1996, which allows “portability” in health care coverage; or any one of the 35 other initiatives – large and small, on everything from Medicare to the minimum wage to immigration reform – that Kennedy, in opposition and in the minority, managed to cajole and finesse through the Senate between 1996 and 1998, masterfully defusing the Gingrich Revolution and maneuvering Dole into such complete political incoherence that Bill Clinton won reelection in a walk. None of this would have happened, if his name were Edward Moore.

    If his name were Edward Moore . . .

    His brothers might be alive. His life might have been easier, not having mattered much to anyone beyond its own boundaries. His first marriage might have survived, and, if it had not, Joan Kennedy’s problems would have been her own, and not grist for the public gossips. It might not have mattered to anyone, the fistfight outside the Manhattan saloon, the fooz ling with waitresses in Washington restaurants, the image of him in his nightshirt, during Holy Week (Jesus God!), going out for a couple of pops with the younger set in Palm Beach and winding up testifying in the middle of a rape trial. His second marriage simply would have been a second marriage, and Vicki Kennedy would not have found herself dragooned into the role of The Good Fairy in yet another Kennedy epiphany narrative.

    All of this would not have mattered, if his name were Edward Moore.

    Pierce draws an even stronger connection between Kennedy’s political career and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne than Julie does. He argues that the political damage done by his, at the very least, negligence that night turned him into the work horse that he was.

    And what of the dead woman? On July 18, 1969, on the weekend that man first walked on the moon, a 28-year-old named Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in his automobile. Plutocrats’ justice and an implausible (but effective) coverup ensued. And, ever since, she’s always been there: during Watergate, when Barry Goldwater told Kennedy that even Richard Nixon didn’t need lectures from him; in 1980, when his presidential campaign was shot down virtually at its launch; during the hearings into the confirmation of Clarence Thomas, when Kennedy’s transgressions gagged him and made him the butt of all the jokes.

    She’s always there. Even if she doesn’t fit in the narrative line, she is so much of the dark energy behind it. She denies to him forever the moral credibility that lay behind not merely all those rhetorical thunderclaps that came so easily in the New Frontier but also Robert Kennedy’s anguished appeals to the country’s better angels. He was forced from the rhetoric of moral outrage and into the incremental nitty-gritty of social justice. He learned to plod, because soaring made him look ridiculous. “It’s really 3 yards and a cloud of dust with him,” says his son Patrick.

    And if his name were Edward Moore, he would have done time.

    I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that his legislative accomplishments somehow “redeem” him for that night. How to weigh an individual life whose fate he held in the balance against a lifetime of legislation, some of which may well have saved other lives? To me, it seems tremendously disrespectful of the victim to make some kind of balance sheet in which she’s a debit and those other people credits, and when the books are balanced, he’s still in the black. I just hold both sets of facts in my mind at the same time. He did some very good things. And he did at least one very, very bad thing. I don’t try to weigh them against each other. For some, this may seem like a meaningless semantic difference, but it feels more correct to me.

    As for speaking ill of the dead, yes, there is a big difference between being at someone’s grandmother’s funeral and discussing a public figure on a blog. I found RonF’s post quite distasteful because of the way he cast widely held liberal principles as something for which Kennedy will need to beg forgiveness from his maker, not because he spoke ill of the dead. (I also found it quite distasteful for him to presume anything about Kennedy’s faith and its relation to his political positions.) Basically, what Amp said.

    And while this post certainly could be read as a eulogy, I have not seen Jeff actually say that his feelings are hurt by the criticisms of Kennedy here. In the absence of such a statement from Jeff, it’s a little odd to have people saying “Don’t make Jeff feel bad!”

  32. 32
    PG says:

    By saying ‘no we have to respect this person with power’ you are making the implicit argument that the wrongs they committed are not important enough, and you are making this judgement not just for youself, but stating that everyone should share that judgement. I don’t think that’s a tenable position. Argue that Ted Kennedy is worth of respect on the facts, rather than just because he’s dead.

    I am not sure how much clearer I can be than what I said @25 “The idea is to have respect for Jeff’s feelings, even if you’ve none for Kennedy himself.” If people really can’t distinguish between those two things — respect for the person who is expressing grief (and as I would have thought Susan Jeffry’s comment @28 made clear, some people who never met Kennedy are genuinely grieved by his death), versus respect for the deceased — then it’s futile for me to try to explain the distinction any further. All I can say is that I’ve never even seen Barack Obama in person, but I would expect people to have enough respect for me that if he died and I wrote a eulogy to express my admiration for his life and my grief at his death, the replies to my eulogy wouldn’t be full of “he palled around with terrorists.” You’d have a right to say it, but couldn’t you have the decency to say it elsewhere?

    Jeff specified @7: “I left her out of this eulogy because I meant it as that — a eulogy.” I thought the norm on this blog was for the person who wrote the post starting the thread to have some say in the tone and direction of the discussion that follows it; people who just want to react to Kennedy, rather than to what Jeff had to say about Kennedy, can always say it in the open thread. To call Kennedy a killer in response to Jeff’s eulogy seems to me disrespectful of Jeff’s intent for the discussion.

  33. 33
    Jake Squid says:

    I don’t disagree in principle with what others, notably Maia & Chingona have said. I have no problems at all with criticism of Kennedy immediately following his death. That comes with being a public figure, particularly one with great power.

    I just don’t think that the comments of a eulogy are the right place for that. There are plenty of blog posts on the interways that are post-mortem criticisms or summations or what have you about Kennedy. Those are the places to note the bad things about the man. A post that is a eulogy, that is explicitly a eulogy, is not where one should criticise the subject of that eulogy. Not because the deceased deserves respect, but because the eulogizer deserves respect.

    Robert, at comment 23, summarizes my views on this perfectly. We don’t immediately tell the eulogizer that he or she forgot the worst things the deceased did. We tell each other in the hall or on the way home (other blog posts, email, IM, etc.). We do this out of respect for the eulogizer and for those who are emotionally touched by the passing of a loved one, idol, whatever.

    By all means, criticize Kennedy. Point out that he got off easy in the wake of Kopechne’s death, remark on how he’s a liberal and how bad that was, comment on how he single-handedly led the nation to the brink of destruction. Just don’t do it in a post that eulogizes the guy.

    Believe me, when Bush the Yunger dies I’ll be pointing out all of his many faults and the ways in which he made this country a much, much worse place. I just won’t do it in a post that eulogizes him. There are plenty of other places for me to do so & I don’t feel the need to speak my criticism of the man and the eulogy just as the speaker steps from the podium.

    I don’t need to agree with others in order to respect their feelings, especially when I have plenty of other spaces (even on the same blog) to announce mine.

  34. Chingona:

    I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that his legislative accomplishments somehow “redeem” him for that night. How to weigh an individual life whose fate he held in the balance against a lifetime of legislation, some of which may well have saved other lives? To me, it seems tremendously disrespectful of the victim to make some kind of balance sheet in which she’s a debit and those other people credits, and when the books are balanced, he’s still in the black. I just hold both sets of facts in my mind at the same time. He did some very good things. And he did at least one very, very bad thing. I don’t try to weigh them against each other. For some, this may seem like a meaningless semantic difference, but it feels more correct to me.

    I too find the whole balance-sheet metaphor not just problematic, but offensive. Nonetheless, what you have written here raise for me the question of atonement, and not even primarily in religious terms. Granted, Kennedy’s privilege allowed him to evade/avoid/escape what the legal consequences of his at least negligence in May Jo Kopechne’s death would have and should have been, and it is a deep shame that he was able to do that; but suppose he had “paid his debt to society”–and note the metaphor; we think of jail time, etc. in terms of debit and credit–and had been able to go on and have a similarly social-justice oriented career of similar consequence. (And since I realize this is a thought experiment, let’s imagine that he had a political career of the same nature as the one he actually had.) Would the fact of his having done his time made any difference in the way people looked at his career after his death, in the way that Mary Jo Kopechne’s death colored that career? I know that the easy answer is yes; that people are likely to say it would have made a big difference. I am not so sure. (Which of course doesn’t mean that I think it’s okay that he did not do time, etc.)

    All of which gets me thinking about the nature of atonement, and I am not necessarily thinking in religious terms here. Is “paying one’s debt to society” the same thing as atoning for what one has done? Can one atone–if only partially–through acts and without a public (however one defines public in each individual case) accounting of the wrong(s) one has done, especially when that wrong is as criminal–or seemingly criminal–as what Kennedy did in Mary Jo Kopechne’s case? Is atonement, in the absence of an all powerful god who can forgive absolutely, even possible? Could Hitler atone? Can a rapist? A serial killer? Someone like Bernard Madoff?

    When I ask this question–and I want to be very clear about this–I want to exclude absolutely any implication that I think the people who were personally wronged/hurt by someone like the people in the list I just made have any responsibility to forgive the person who wronged them. A woman who has been raped has no responsibility even to try to forgive the man who raped her; neither does a man who was the victim of attempted murder; nor do Mary Jo Kopechne’s friends and relatives have any responsibility to forgive Kennedy. I am talking about something more public than that, more cultural or societal.

    I realize that these questions go far beyond the specific case of Edward Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne, and that they might constitute a derailing of this thread. If so, please ignore them.

  35. 35
    recursiveparadox says:

    There’s a lot of people who think Mary Jo Kopechne shouldn’t be mentioned so soon. I disagree. Not because I believe that inherently one should air the horrible things someone does in their eulogy but because of the sheer shameless blackout of information about this woman.

    Are you aware, that a good 10 to 20 of the bloggers and twittering folk I follow didn’t even know who she was? Daisy pointed out that most of the people who searched for her misspelled her last name. Many of us know about her and we know about the suspicious nature of the circumstances of her death. But how many don’t and are calling this man a saint? A huge number. This. Is. A. Problem. Especially on feminist blogs, where women should not be expendable, ever.

    One should not pull the skeletons out of the closet at a eulogy? Fine. I can live with it here because this was a eulogy of sorts. However it is happening everywhere, on regular old blog posts about him as his death reminds people to write about his life. Those are not eulogies. And even in blog style eulogies, one should also not whitewash a man who does not deserve it (and no one deserves whitewashing).

    Be truthful. End the damn denial. He did many good things and he did many bad things. Point out that we all hope that the good things were done to atone for the bad things. Leave it at that for the eulogy and then afterwards, let’s remember Mary Jo Kopechne and remember why the rich and privileged are so dangerous, not just to us but also to themselves. Don’t say he was a saint. He was not. Don’t say he was a wonderful man who lived a life that always helped everyone. That is a lie.

    Oh and for the people saying that we ought to not speculate on what happened that night, aren’t you speculating that he did his good deeds to atone and for good reasons? You don’t know that his intentions were pure or seeking redemption. Especially since he dropped the ball on one of the most marginalized underdogs in our nation: trans folk and the ENDA that was supposed to help us as well as the gay community.

    He dropped us like a hot rock. And yet you folks in comments speculate on how noble his intentions were, while complaining about us speculating on what happened that night. Please. My intelligence has been insulted enough, thank you.

  36. 36
    PG says:

    Conservative George Will, who agreed with Ted Kennedy about almost nothing, provides an example of an assessment that notes Chappaquiddick’s effect on Kennedy’s career without speculating on his being a killer, and concludes, “He lived his own large life and the ledger of it shows a substantial positive balance.”

  37. 37
    AlanSmithee says:

    When Senator Kennedy tip toes up to the Pearly Gates to receive his wings from St. Peter and be wafted into the presence of the Lord, I sincerely hope that there is a large group of women there to welcome him.

    With fucking baseball bats.

    With nails.

  38. 38
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    It is notable that Ted Kennedy also
    testified at the 1991 trial of his rapist-nephew, William Kennedy Smith,
    even though there was no subpoena and he didn’t have to. He did it strictly to HELP OUT HIS NEPHEW. The Palm Beach jury was dazzled by his celebrity, and it helped win Smith’s acquittal.

    Patricia Bowman, the accuser, said Kennedy was drunk and wandered around the compound in his boxers a bit before passing out, and was in no condition to know anything that happened on the beach (where the rape occurred). Incredibly, in Kennedy’s testimony (which I watched) he even said as much, but his PRESENCE, alone, was such a big deal.

    I remember the (male) pundits were calling the whole incident (there’s that word again, INCIDENT) “Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure” and “The Kennedy Easter Weekend Tour” and cutesy stuff like that. Ha ha.

    I noticed, watching the CNN bio last night, that Mary Jo got very short shrift, but the William Kennedy Smith rape trial (and Ted’s pivotal role in it) was not mentioned at all, period.

    These things start to add up, you know?

    YellowMarigold, thank you for your comment.

  39. 39
    PG says:

    Is Barney Frank now a Judas to the LGBT community because he *wrote* the bill that left out trans folk from anti-discrimination protection?

    Are you aware, that a good 10 to 20 of the bloggers and twittering folk I follow didn’t even know who she was?

    Who are these people, and on what do you base this claim of their ignorance? Did you say to them, “Ted Kennedy was once involved in an accident at Chappaquiddick where a young woman died?” and they said, “I never heard anything about it”? I first heard of this when I was a conservative adolescent reading Rush Limbaugh’s books, and while Limbaugh can’t mention Kennedy without mentioning the accident, he always refers to it as Chappaquiddick; I don’t think he ever mentions the victim’s name.

    Daisy pointed out that most of the people who searched for her misspelled her last name.

    I am not quite sure how to spell Leon Wieseltier’s name. I know who he is. Kopechne is not a terribly common last name. There were a lot of misspellings of “Chappaquiddick” in search engines too.

    Many of us know about her and we know about the suspicious nature of the circumstances of her death. But how many don’t and are calling this man a saint? A huge number.

    Who is calling Kennedy a saint? Names and links would be useful. And again, how do you establish that people know nothing about the accident simply because they don’t remember how to spell the victim’s name?

    This. Is. A. Problem. Especially on feminist blogs, where women should not be expendable, ever.

    I don’t understand why people keep saying that not mentioning Mary Jo Kopechne by name, in a eulogy for the man whose negligence/ recklessness caused her death, means that she is being regarded as “expendable.” Indeed, your premise is that people have simply never heard of her. You can’t regard someone or something as expendable if you’re not even aware of its existence.

  40. 40
    Sailorman says:

    It’s the politics/real life dichotomy.

    As a politician, Kennedy was an effective man, who promoted a lot of things which I like. In comparison to other politicians, he had principles which which I tend to agree. He got a lot of things done that I am happy were done; he was more effective than most. All in all, he was a very good politician–maybe even near the top of the heap. In part, though, to stand out as an ethical or effective politician is to be a big fish in a very small pond. Politicians just aren’t trying very hard, whether it’s because of personal failings or because they lack the privilege, money and/or connections to do what is right-but-risky.

    As a person, Kennedy doesn’t strike me as a horrible man by any means, but neither does he strike me anything particularly special. I know plenty of people who I respect more, and you all probably do, as well. Many of them have, like Kennedy, devoted a huge portion of their life to public service. The just lack the background to get famous. Give them millions of dollars and political clout and a Senate seat, and they’d get a lot done, too.

    When people laud Kennedy’s political achievements, and put him near the top of the heap, it makes sense. Extending those descriptors to his personal life does not necessarily follow.

  41. 41
    PG says:

    @18,

    This isn’t a eulogy. … This is a blog post

    eu-lo-gy
    n. pl. eu·lo·gies
    1. A laudatory speech or written tribute, especially one praising someone who has died.
    2. High praise or commendation.
    [Middle English euloge, from Medieval Latin eulogium, from Greek eulogiā, praise : eu-, eu- + -logos, speech; see -logy.]
    eu’lo·gis’tic (-jĭs’tĭk) adj., eu’lo·gis’ti·cal·ly adv.
    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

    A blog post no longer qualifies as a writing?

    @38,

    So the idea is that Kennedy shouldn’t have testified at his nephew’s trial, in which he presumably believed that his nephew was being falsely accused (if someone accused my cousin of rape, I would find it unbelievable because of what I know of his character, and I would testify on his behalf to the extent I could truthfully do so), for fear that his celebrity would unjustly sway the jury?

    That’s a rather patronizing attitude you’re expecting the Kennedys to adopt toward the rest of the world: you mere jury members cannot be expected to withstand the AWESOME POWER of my celebrity, therefore I must shield you from its stunning rays by not testifying on behalf a family member whom I believe to have been wrongly accused.

    Kennedy apparently also should have had the magical power to prevent the media from making light of one of his relatives facing prison, though he couldn’t even avoid being a target for mockery himself. “While not directly implicated in the case, Kennedy became the frequent butt of jokes on The Tonight Show and other late-night television programs. Time magazine said Kennedy was being perceived as a ‘Palm Beach boozer, lout and tabloid grotesque’ while Newsweek said Kennedy was ‘the living symbol of the family flaws.’”

    the William Kennedy Smith rape trial (and Ted’s pivotal role in it) was not mentioned at all, period.

    On what basis do you make the factual, non-opinion claim that Kennedy had a “pivotal role” in his nephew’s acquittal? Did any of the jurors say, “I thought the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt until Sen. Kennedy testified”? Did all the other rape cases in that area and at that time result in convictions? How do you feel so certain that Kennedy’s testimony is all that stood between Smith and a prison cell?

    By the way, how long was the CNN bio? An hour? For a man who lived 77 years, which included the assassinations of two brothers and 9 highly active terms in the Senate, how much time do you expect to be given to his pleading guilty to leaving the scene of an accident in which a private young woman (i.e. not a public figure) drowned?

    ETA: What Jake Squid said. Any further comments, I’ll reply to in that open thread.

  42. 42
    recursiveparadox says:

    @PG:

    Mostly younger feminists like my friend Laura who was thankful that someone spoke up. I was one of these folks mind you, Daisy’s blog was what revealed it to me a bit ago and I followed up with research of my own. Having people thank me and Daisy for the info and point out that they didn’t know is good on one hand but dismaying on the other, when they’re largely young liberals praising Kennedy as a force of good without knowing the actual complexity of his life and the lives he has harmed, even now.

    I first heard of this when I was a conservative adolescent reading Rush Limbaugh’s books, and while Limbaugh can’t mention Kennedy without mentioning the accident, he always refers to it as Chappaquiddick; I don’t think he ever mentions the victim’s name.

    One thing you can always trust pundits to do is to report on the scandals and horrid actions of their opposing politicians. Never their own. Did you notice any liberal sources discussing this? Besides a small group of a few pissed off feminists? I doubt it. I certainly didn’t. Which is part of why I didn’t know until someone told me.

    Fair point on the misspelling, there’s a distinct probability that the name is just hard for some folk to spell. I’ll drop that one. Of course, keep in mind that people often google something they have only heard of in passing and don’t know much about. Especially if it’s a single word googling. So the fact that it was search engine runs with her name is troubling in and of itself. If they knew about her death, chances are they’d be using the Chappaquiddick catch phrase to track it, not her name (as that was the common way to describe it back then).

    Who is calling Kennedy a saint?

    Not literally (I hope not anyways, god if someone literally called him a saint I would vomit on my screen). They’re whitewashing him. Calling him a champion of the underdog (except for underdogs like Kopechne and trans folk), or a beacon for our nation. None of that is true (especially with how he’s cut trans folk out of things), yet people keep saying it.

    I don’t understand why people keep saying that not mentioning Mary Jo Kopechne by name, in a eulogy for the man whose negligence/ recklessness caused her death, means that she is being regarded as “expendable.” Indeed, your premise is that people have simply never heard of her. You can’t regard someone or something as expendable if you’re not even aware of its existence.

    Whitewashing his history either because they want to “honor” the dead (because lying about history is so very honorable) or simply refusing to address what happened when they find out is treating her as expendable. It’s also treating me and every other trans person who needs that ENDA as expendable, which I take a whole lot more personally. The fact is, I have tweeted on this a mess of times. And I didn’t get a whole lot of responses. Mostly people who didn’t know, going, “thank you RP, it’s good to know that”. The rest outright ignored me. People without a lot of followers too. And continued to sing his praises. Older folks too, who one would expect to know about this. I even used hashtags to link out the post.

    That is what is implying to me that she was (and my community is) expendable.

    This blog has done pretty well. Mentioned the bad and the good. One does not need to whitewash the man to do honor by him for the good he has done. And he has done good. In this particular blog post, Jeff did fail to mention Kopechne and the HRC-esque betrayal of the trans community for politics by Kennedy, but I can still take comfort in the fact that he made an honest to god effort to truly reveal the man, not whitewashed, not sugar coated, not censored to make him look better. Just Kennedy. A man who did great things and bad things. A complex human being who sits in shades of gray.

    And that, that is honoring the dead.

  43. 43
    Jenny says:

    I also found this on Kennedy and his rather short lived health care advocacy: http://www.counterpunch.org/redmond06122008.html

  44. 44
    AlanSmithee says:

    Saint Teddy, or ‘EMK’ as the pwoggie blogs have dubbed him, parlayed his chairmanship of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee into $2.6 million in campaign contributions from the health care industry. But, on the other hand, he had a tremendous singing voice…

  45. 45
    Dianne says:

    There is a possible correlation between severe head trauma and glioblastoma, the tumor that killed Kennedy. Maybe he was telling the truth when he said he was too confused to know what he was doing after the accident.

  46. 46
    PG says:

    Jenny,

    While the Socialist Worker might consider single-payer to be the only health care reform worth advocating, Kennedy has been working to expand coverage for decades. The kids who are currently covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program (created by Kennedy in 1997) would probably take issue with your belief that Kennedy’s health care advocacy was “short-lived.”

  47. 47
    Robert says:

    Kennedy has been working to expand coverage for decades.

    Maybe he felt bad about killing universal coverage 40 years ago at the behest of his labor constituency.

  48. 48
    PG says:

    Robert,

    If you’re talking about the bill Nixon sent to Congress, “Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan,” that was 35, not 40 years ago (Feb. 1974), and it was just an expanded employer mandate that still would not cover people who were self-employed, who were between jobs, or who otherwise lacked employment coverage. And yes, 35 years ago Kennedy was exactly the principled idealist that Jenny and recursiveparadox would embrace, ever-ready to sacrifice the good (if one thinks an expanded employer mandate, at the time when American corporations were first dealing with foreign competition from countries that did not put the burden of paying for health care on employers, is definitely good) for the perfect (Medicare for all).

  49. 49
    recursiveparadox says:

    @Dianne:

    It’s possible. Although I really have to wonder why the two guys he got to search the lake with him didn’t call the authorities for help. They didn’t have head trauma. Certainly Kennedy isn’t the only one culpable in what happened, there was a lot of troubling things that a few people did that night. I also really have to wonder why he allegedly sped away from Deputy Look when he called out to Kennedy’s car to see if they were lost. Or why Kopechne didn’t take her hotel key and purse with her when she allegedly requested to get a ride to the hotel.

    Little things that make me wonder, that make me worry.

  50. 50
    recursiveparadox says:

    PG, I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t make unbacked assumptions about my leanings on healthcare and progressive works based around healthcare without hearing them from me first.

    Not appreciating the whitewashing of a man who did bad and good things and not appreciating the fact that Kennedy quite deftly screwed over my entire community and yet called himself a champion of GLBT really provides no indication on my views on what should done about healthcare.

    I haven’t even spoken about healthcare yet in the blogosphere (and I ought to) so you have no basis to claim that I favor an idealist or don’t think compromise on healthcare is good.

  51. 51
    Dianne says:

    recursiveparadox: Good questions. I’m not saying that Kennedy was definitely innocent or even should be given the benefit of the doubt. I just wanted to add another factor that could be considered and hadn’t been mentioned yet. Certainly the sort of privilege the Kennedys had can lead to all sorts of bad behavior. Part of me wants to say, “What’s it matter now that they’re both dead” but there is something to be said for setting the record straight. It’s too late to save her or punish him/remove the stain from his character (whichever turns out to be relevant) but it would be good to be able to at least know the truth.

  52. 52
    PG says:

    recursiveparadox,

    Since you gave no evidence that Kennedy believed an ENDA with protection for gender identity had the votes to pass and that he supported the non-gender-identity-protecting version out of sheer malice toward trans people, I made the assumption that you were faulting him for taking the good (a bill that could pass, that protected only sexual orientation (and during a Republican administration, a bill that had enough votes to supersede presidential veto)) rather than the perfect (a bill that couldn’t pass, that protected both sexual orientation and gender identity). If this assumption is false, please provide some evidence to the contrary. I apologize for giving the erroneous impression that your preference for the perfect over the good was a general one that applied to health care as well as LGBT issues.

    As for “whitewashing,” your entire case for it has been premised on people’s ignorance, which is not the same thing as whitewashing. Whitewash — “anything, as deceptive words or actions, used to cover up or gloss over faults, errors, or wrongdoings, or absolve a wrongdoer from blame.” You can’t do that unless you are aware of the faults, errors and wrongdoings in the first place.

    I’ve already noted that professional journalists — people who are paid to know about political history, and many of whom are old enough to have been alive in 1969 — have been noting Kopechne’s death. That the 20-somethings on Twitter, Facebook and blogs weren’t aware of it is not an indictment of the general media’s coverage.

  53. 53
    Julie Herds Cats says:

    It’s also treating me and every other trans person who needs that ENDA as expendable, which I take a whole lot more personally.

    I see the world differently. Pass the legislation that can be passed when it can be passed. Many supporters of same-sex marriage are holding out for Marriage-Marriage. When my wife and I wanted to get married, we went to Vermont and got unionized. It was the best thing going at the time and we went with it.

  54. 54
    recursiveparadox says:

    @PG:

    I’m aware that people need to compromise at times and I don’t attribute it to malice. But he is not our champion. Calling him a champion of GLBT is erroneous (including in the media, which really ought to be on top of these things, as you said, they’re paid to know), and in many cases cis privileged whitewashing (as in, they don’t care about the trans angle at all).

    I’m one of the few I know of who point out that I can understand why he did what he did. It doesn’t change what he did though. We were dropped. We were left behind. And yet, he’s apparently the champion of the underdog.

    As for your mention of the media, that wasn’t what I was complaining about. My standards for the media are actually pretty low as I don’t expect much from them. I was discussing feminist blogs. Niche sites that have a vested interest in raising concerns related to womens’ rights and the value of women. Blog sites run by people old enough to know about this, or who received reminders of this and didn’t say a word.

    It isn’t all 20 somethings that don’t know. I wouldn’t accuse those who don’t know of whitewashing. If, after they’re told, they persist in their treatment of the man, then they are guilty too. And considering the lack of response on multiple fronts, I’d say that guilt is heavily applied.

    So yes, there is no indictment of the general media on my part, mostly because I wasn’t talking about them in the first place. I hope that clears things up a bit.

    @Julie:

    I’m not an idealist. I’m aware that sometimes you can’t achieve everything. I’m more or less supportive of the “halfway mark” of non profit co ops for healthcare because I know that the chances of getting the universal option are “snowball’s in hell” bad.

    That doesn’t change the fact that the politicians who seek that compromise (and those who support that compromise) are guilty of abandoning those without any options, who can’t afford the co ops and those who are being ganked by insurance companies and medical providers (it isn’t just insurance causing the problems) and need something far better than co ops.

    Those people, much like my community (the trans community) have suffered and will continue to suffer intensely because of these compromises. We have been abandoned and practical considerations will not change that fact.

    I’m not asking people to see him as a trans hating malice filled man. All indications point to him intending to continue his work with us at some later point. But I’m also asking people not to attribute to him the title of champion for us, when he did no such thing.

    Revisionism is where the problem comes in. That and cis privileged ignorance of trans issues. When we start pretending that the man was a lion for GLBT, not just GLB, is when we start erasing trans people. And that does not fly with me.

  55. 55
    Ampersand says:

    With hindsight, it’s clear that “taking the good rather than the perfect” would have been the smart thing to do with Nixon’s health care plan. At the time, I suspect Kennedy and others believed that by turning down Nixoncare they’d be getting something better within a few years. They were mistaken.

    However, it’s not always the case that we should take the good, rather than hold out for something better. It’s very likely that turning down the trans-inclusive ENDA was the right thing to do, not only idealistically and morally, but also strategically. It now seems likely that we’ll see a trans-inclusive ENDA passed within a year.

  56. 56
    Julie Herds Cats says:

    RP @ 54 and Amp @ 55:

    I completely disagree — they should have taken whatever ENDA they could get as soon as they could take it. If you look at the history of legalizing same-sex unions, allowing that more measured approach: civil-unions when possible, marriage when possible, has produced INCREDIBLE results. Tossing babies out with bath water is a bad idea, even if they are just metaphorical babies.

    Now, if one truly wants to say “This group is throwing trannies under the bus”, HRC is clearly guilty of that, along with throwing lesbians and gender queers who aren’t trannies under the bus. It’s an assimilationist rich, white, gay men’s country club of a group.

  57. 57
    recursiveparadox says:

    @Julie (post 56):

    It may be a good strategy in the long haul but it still results in suffering and people being tossed aside. Machiavellian reasoning always has that hard tradeoff.

    Now, if one truly wants to say “This group is throwing trannies under the bus”, HRC is clearly guilty of that, along with throwing lesbians and gender queers who aren’t trannies under the bus. It’s an assimilationist rich, white, gay men’s country club of a group.

    Why so judgmental of HRC but not Kennedy? They did the same exact actions. And the word “tranny” is a bit of a slur, so probably not a good idea to use it.

  58. 58
    Julie Herds Cats says:

    RP @ 57:

    Why so judgmental of HRC but not Kennedy? They did the same exact actions.

    Because HRC is a PAID advocacy group. Because when I, a big, queer, dyke paid them money and was sold out for the rich, white, male, assimilationist, gay frat-boy crowd, it became obvious that they weren’t for anyone outside the very narrowly defined group of rich, white, male, assimilationist gay men.

    And the word “tranny” is a bit of a slur, so probably not a good idea to use it.

    It’s precisely because it is a slur that I use it. The same as I use “queer” and “dyke”.

  59. 59
    PG says:

    I think JHC’s example of same-sex marriage is very instructive. In states that democratically passed civil unions that were functionally equivalent to marriage without using the name, the people of those states became accustomed to same-sex couples having equal legal rights, and the move from there to full blown marriage was not very difficult. Contrast with California, which had a court ruling mandating same-sex marriage that garnered backlash sufficient to amend the state constitution. The ruling was morally right and legally plausible, but its practical effect was the passage of Prop. 8.

    A trans-inclusive ENDA in 2009 would not have been precluded by passing a non-trans-inclusive ENDA in 2007. This is a significant distinction between anti-discrimination legislation and something like health care reform. Anti-discrimination legislation can always be further expanded to include more classifications, without conflicting with the prior legislation. In contrast, the ever-increasing entrenchment of employment-based health care insurance — through tax advantages, regulations, bureaucracy — makes a move from “good” to “perfect” more difficult.

    With anti-discrimination law, those who are protected by the existing law generally see it as no skin off their nose for the protection to be expanded to others. In contrast, those comfortably ensconced in their employer-provided health care are more likely to object to radical reform that would take away what they already have and replace it with something unknown. The more people who are enjoying that privilege, the more of them who are fearful of change. In contrast, if we had very few people covered by employers (as was true way back when Teddy Roosevelt first made universal coverage a plank in his Bull Moose platform), then there isn’t a majority group that is vested in the status quo.

  60. 60
    Julie Herds Cats says:

    PG @ 59:

    A trans-inclusive ENDA in 2009 would not have been precluded by passing a non-trans-inclusive ENDA in 2007. This is a significant distinction between anti-discrimination legislation and something like health care reform. Anti-discrimination legislation can always be further expanded to include more classifications, without conflicting with the prior legislation.

    BINGO! We have a winner!

  61. 61
    recursiveparadox says:

    @Julie

    Because HRC is a PAID advocacy group.

    Fair enough. I’d still say that calling Kennedy a champion of the GLBT community is dishonest, but it is true, he isn’t paid directly by us to advocate for us all. Which makes the HRC actually heinous instead of just Machiavellian.

    It’s precisely because it is a slur that I use it. The same as I use “queer” and “dyke”.

    Trying to give an impression of the bigoted voice of the HRC? Or using the slurs for another reason?

    @PG:

    Yeah, I get that. They’re certainly not exactly the same and there are different concerns that arise with each. I wouldn’t disagree there. So I could see how the employer stuff would be significantly negative.

    I feel like we (or I really, since you folks were already discussing it) ended up on a tangent about healthcare.

  62. 62
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    PG:

    So the idea is that Kennedy shouldn’t have testified at his nephew’s trial, in which he presumably believed that his nephew was being falsely accused (if someone accused my cousin of rape, I would find it unbelievable because of what I know of his character, and I would testify on his behalf to the extent I could truthfully do so), for fear that his celebrity would unjustly sway the jury?

    Character? Ummm, he was not a character witness. How familiar are you with the whole case?

    Kennedy testified that Bowman and Smith seemed to “hit it off” well. You do realize that Ted Kennedy was present when they met at the bar and returned with them both to the compound? You do realize he was PRESENT THAT NIGHT when the rape occurred? The fact that he was passed out (according to Bowman), saved him a subpoena. He was almost called as a WITNESS to the actual CRIME.

    (What did you think the “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” jokes referred to, that I mentioned?)

    “While not directly implicated in the case, Kennedy became the frequent butt of jokes on The Tonight Show and other late-night television programs. Time magazine said Kennedy was being perceived as a ‘Palm Beach boozer, lout and tabloid grotesque’ while Newsweek said Kennedy was ‘the living symbol of the family flaws.’”

    And he kept right on drinking, too. Amazing, isn’t it?

    On what basis do you make the factual, non-opinion claim that Kennedy had a “pivotal role” in his nephew’s acquittal?

    I meant he had a pivotal role in EVENTS, since he is the one who talked his nephew into going out and partying on Good Friday. It is doubtful the entire thing would have happened if Ted hadn’t need a damn DRINK so bad. (His guilt over that is likely the reason he testified in Smith’s defense, which doesn’t excuse him in my book, although apparently it does in yours.)

    And as for the acquittal, you are aware of the expensive jury selection process that Roy Black used? You are aware of Roy Black’s reputation and the fact that he doesn’t work cheap? Do you think most defendants have their own cheering section outside the courtroom? Are you honestly telling me the fact that someone is a Kennedy means they are treated exactly like any other defendant? Please.

    Dianne:

    There is a possible correlation between severe head trauma and glioblastoma, the tumor that killed Kennedy. Maybe he was telling the truth when he said he was too confused to know what he was doing after the accident.

    Yes, getting banged on the head can be an issue when you are messed up and driving on islands and bridges. As RonF said, that would get you a homicide conviction if he had been tested. And he knew that.

    As an alcoholic, let me assure you, I recognize another alcoholic’s bullshit story when I hear it. Maybe if he had taken full responsibility for his actions on that night, he wouldn’t have continued drinking FOR DECADES, and Patricia Bowman wouldn’t have been raped and countless women assaulted and Joan Kennedy wouldn’t have been driven half-mad.

    Indulging alcoholism is DEADLY always–for someone, if not the alcoholic themselves. Do not indulge, do not excuse.

    Thank God nobody let me get by with this shit, I might have killed someone too.

  63. 63
    Ampersand says:

    NOTE TO EVERYONE WHO WAS DISCUSSING ENDA, FILIBUSTERS, RECLAIMING SLURS, ETC:

    I just moved a whole bunch of (imo) mainly off-topic posts, including a bunch authored by me, to the open thread.

    Carry on.

  64. 64
    PG says:

    Deleted and moved to open thread.

    [Thanks! --Amp]

  65. 65
    Julie Herds Cats says:

    Now that ENDA has been moved, I’d like to say that I was always underwhelmed by Ted — and not just about ENDA!

    Yes, the man was definitely passionate about supporting the downtrodden, but damn — whenever he or another member of Clan Kennedy was in trouble, he and the rest of the Clan rallied around and did their best to be a bunch of spoiled, rotten, rich white people.

    The William Kennedy Smith episode is just one of many examples.

    As someone point out, apparently this happened on the evening of Good Friday, one of the most holy days of the entire Roman Catholic calendar. They were at a party, getting drunk — not that high on the Roman Catholic list of sins, but I’m sure it is. Next, he and a woman he was not married to went out and had sexual relations, with or without consent, on the beach. Pretty high up there on Ted’s personal religion list of Big Sins.

    On the basis of WHAT does someone say “William Kennedy Smith is a person of high moral character”? Adultery on a high holy day?

  66. 66
    recursiveparadox says:

    Or calling him the greatest senator of all time…

    Yeah. That is whitewashing.

    *saunters off to the link farm thread to try to find the posts she missed x_x*

  67. 67
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    Amp, thanks for Melissa’s post, although I wish you had linked it in this thread. (Since you didn’t, I will)

    PG, do you disagree with Melissa’s account?

    In Palm Beach, Florida, two decades later, Teddy threw around his weight on behalf of his young nephew, William Kennedy Smith, with whom he’d been drinking the night William was accused of sexual assault. Though William had been accused of sexual assault multiple times before (and has been accused again since), Teddy vociferously protested his nephew’s innocence and participated in the smear campaign against his accuser, who found herself pitted against the entire Kennedy clan and the enormous privileges its membership carries. Smith was found not guilty of all charges. His accuser’s identity was made public.

    Teddy’s privilege allowed him to pull strings on his own behalf and on his nephew’s behalf in criminal situations where one woman ended up dead and another raped. That is one of the many things the sort of limitless privilege like Teddy’s allows—and he made use of it.

    And I cannot forget it.

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