[Posted by Karl]
This weekend, another member of the Kennedy clan was buried with a liberal application of liberal myth-making. Jacqueline Kennedy begged historian-journo Theodore M. White to rescue JFK’s legacy. White obliged by regurgitating her Camelot myth, knowing it to be a misreading of history.
The death of Ted Kennedy unavoidably exposed a new generation to Kennedy’s many sins — including, but not limited to Chappaquiddick — which tend to get glossed over or unmentioned in public education and the establishment media. Accordingly, those who have spent decades enabling the Kennedys rolled out yet another myth: that Ted Kennedy “redeemed” himself after leaving Mary Jo Kopechne to drown (perhaps to slowly asphyxiate), failing to report it to authorities for ten hours, and by most accounts lying to the authorities about the event.
We can never know whether he privately confessed his sins. Nor can those peddling the redemption myth over the weekend. We do know that Ted Kennedy never showed any contrition or publicly admitted guilt. We know that he privately found Chappaquiddick a source of humor. We know that for decades afterward, Kennedy still engaged in grossly inappropriate, occasionally criminal behavior with younger women while binge drinking.
Of course, the better Kennedy myth-makers do not stretch so far as to claim personal redemption. Instead, they claim Ted Kennedy redeemed himself through his public career. This defense can extend only as far as the appeal of his politics, but it too is a myth. Consider the case made by Joyce Carol Oates:
Yet, ironically, following [Chappaquiddick], Ted Kennedy seemed to have genuinely refashioned himself as a serious, idealistic, tirelessly energetic liberal Democrat in the mold of 1960s/1970s American liberalism, arguably the greatest Democratic senator of the 20th century. His tireless advocacy of civil rights, rights for disabled Americans, health care, voting reform, his courageous vote against the Iraq war (when numerous Democrats including Hillary Clinton voted for it) suggest that there are not only “second acts” in American lives, but that the Renaissance concept of the “fortunate fall” may be relevant here: one “falls” as Adam and Eve “fell”; one sins and repents and is forgiven, provided that one remakes one’s life.
This is a myth because Ted Kennedy did precious little refashioning after Chappaquiddick. According to Americans for Democratic Action, the only times Ted Kennedy’s “Liberal Quotient” slipped below 90% before Chappaquiddick related to absences from the Senate. Indeed, in 1969, Kennedy racked up a perfect 100% Liberal Quotient from the ADA before driving off that bridge. By that time, Sen. Kennedy had been responsible for creating Head Start, radically reforming immigration law, and pioneering bilingual education. And he was already looking for an exit from Vietnam. The notion that Ted Kennedy was not already a tireless advocate for liberal causes in 1969 strains credulity.
It would be fair to say that Chappaquiddick did nothing to alter Ted Kennedy’s leftward trajectory. He flip-flopped on the issue of abortion, becoming a 100% NARAL voter. He became the kind of Democrat who offered to help Soviet Union fight Pres. Ronald Reagan. And his grotesquely unfair attacks on Robert Bork (whose first amendment jurisprudence bothered me) were a milestone — and perhaps a pioneering effort — in what Democrats would later call the “politics of personal destruction.”
The post-Chappaquiddick Ted Kennedy alienated the socially conservative and hawkish members of the Democratic Party, driving many of them into what ultimately became the Reagan coalition. He preserved Massachusetts liberalism as a Democratic ideal that failed every time it ran for the presidency. And that is a legacy Democrats want to discuss even less than Chappaquiddick.
Media morons like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews may have rushed to cast Pres. Obama as the last Kennedy brother. Pres. Obama was smart enough to call Ted Kennedy’s death the closing of a chapter in our history. The last thing Barack Obama needs is to be cast as Curly Joe Besser in the Kennedy family drama, for there is no political advantage in it for him.