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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Seize The Moment

Mickey links to a John Ellis post of a "near-unbelievable" Boston Globe quote from a profile on Ted Kennedy:

If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.

Groan. As little as I like Fat Ted (and check his photo for another data point on obesity in America), this quote is waaay out of context. So, I will seize my once in a lifetime chance to rise in defense of Ted Kennedy, or the Globe, or whoever.

You pretty much have to read the whole article, but the author is working several recurring themes. One of these themes is, what might Teddy have accomplished if not for Mary Jo Kopechne, and what has he done in spite of it.

It makes a lot more sense if you read it. Creative excerpts:

He has epiphanies," a friend told author Adam Clymer, but that's the old mythology talking. On October 25, 1991, Kennedy gave a famous speech at the Kennedy School of Government in which he said, "I recognize my own shortcomings, the faults in the conduct of my private life." By then, the woman in the car had been dead for 22 years, dead because of a situation in which alcohol and recklessness were intimately involved, and if this was an epiphany, it was a damned slow one. What he was on the day of the speech was an almost 60-year-old divorced man who drank too much, an aging father and uncle who was the caretaker for a spectacular array of functional and dysfunctional children, and that was all he was, and the barstools are full of them.

Those men have "problems" to overcome. Kennedys have "epiphanies."

Snip (hey, works for Lileks)

And there he is, rid of most of that now, 70 years old and 40 years a senator, and he stands for all the curdled glory, but most of all, for himself: Legislative lion and failed dauphin; dark prince and heir apparent; Capitol Hill grind and Palm Beach sybarite, talisman, and bogeyman; Camelot and Dallas and Los Angeles and Chappaquiddick.


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 that's the key. That's how you survive what he's survived. That's how you move forward, one step after another, even though your name is Edward Moore Kennedy. You work, always, as though your name were Edward Moore. If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.

As I said, it works better in context.

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