When I was a young man, Edward M. Kennedy had a lock on becoming president of the United States. He was the sole survivor of four brothers who had been groomed for the high office; all three of his older brothers had died violently and at an early age in the service of their country. He was the rightful heir of all the good that had come before him: The heroic combat death of his brother, Joseph Jr., the mountains of admiration won by his brother, John, the soaring but unfilled hopes of his martyred brother Robert.
Recklessly, Ted threw it all away, all the great possibilities as president that would have exceeded even his great achievements as a U.S. senator, accomplishments that are fondly and rightfully recounted today by his many admirers upon his death. Teddy had the "Big Mo" behind him. His brother Jack had won me over with the eloquence of his vision--the struggle for equal rights, the compassion for working and impoverished Americans, the reach for the moon landing, the pledge to pay any price to ensure to all peoples the blessings of liberty.
Those promises sunk with the weight of Ted Kennedy's car that night on
a Chappaquiddick bridge. Truth was, the death of his passenger that
night, Mary Jo Kopechne,
was a homicide--manslaughter perhaps--but a homicide nonetheless. An
accident caused by bad judgment? Assuredly. But his ensuing actions to
avoid responsibility demonstrated not just a fallible man--just like
the rest of us--but an uncaring, self-centered man who could not be
trusted with presidential powers.
Some of us were crushed. He
had not just betrayed his family name and heritage, but the dreams of a
better, more just society. Forgiveness was hard enough to come by, but
enthusiasm for his presidency became indefensible.
Kennedy has accomplished much in the life that he was left with,
blessed with opportunities to do good that few of us receive. Lesser
men might have eschewed those opportunities and opted instead of a
pointless, idle life. For many, he rose to the challenge and became one
of the Senate's most historic figures; hated by many, but beloved by so
many others. The good he accomplished isn't just a matter of perception
by his admirers, it's real. I still cherish those Kennedy values, but,
for me, Edward M. moved beyond them (away from, I would say) into a
world that I don't believe his brother, Jack, envisioned.
have yet to see if Shakespeare's, words spoken by Anthony of the dead
Julius Caesar will apply: "The evil that men do lives after them; the
good is oft interred with their bones." I don't expect that to happen
with Edward M. Kennedy. May he now rest in peace.