"I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately" Ted Kennedy, during a televised statement after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, Chappaquiddick, July 1969
"I hope for an America where neither "fundamentalist" nor "humanist" will be a dirty word, but a fair description of the different ways in which people of good will look at life and into their own souls." Ted Kennedy, October, 1983
The last Kennedy brother is gone. An era has literally ended. It covered many years, bred three (four?) generations and offered up countless important events, and yes, scandals too. That book is now closed.
Or is it?
Ted Kennedy and his famous family had an enormous impact on our country, our laws, our future. They directly and indirectly affected a portion of our country's history, from the 1950's til today.
Often, but not always, for the better.
Yes, they were touched by far too much tragedy. But many of them, most notably Teddy, willfully broke society's and God's laws over and over with virtual impunity. That's just not acceptable.
I agree, the sum of a man's life should not be measured only by his mistakes, especially youthful ones. His lifetime of work, of service, of commitment and contribution should carry much more weight.
But Ted Kennedy's "indiscretions" were in fact lifelong frat boy behaviors, immoral, illegal, dangerous, extending long after college into adulthood, when he was a husband, a father, a United States Senator.
He was a habitually unfaithful husband, a heavy drinker, a routinely drunk driver. He had a mean temper. He held grudges and acted on them to crush opponents. We'll never know what else, but there's got to be more.
Most of all, worst of all, he caused a woman's death.
You can never un ring that bell. Not even if you step up, show remorse, actively seek rehabilitation and redemption.
None of which Ted Kennedy ever did. Not a day in jail. Not a day in rehab. No community service. No statement of responsibility. He paid a fine, he paid off the family and went on with his own life.
Mary Jo Kopechne's life was over. A young woman barely out of her teens. Who would never grow up to see her own promise fulfilled, the achievements, successes she might have had.
All the accomplishments Ted Kennedy is being lionized for in death were denied to her.
Directly or indirectly, Ted Kennedy was responsible for Mary Jo Kopechne's death. First he ran away from it. Then he got away with it.
Did he achieve greatness in his life's work as a public servant? In many ways, yes. I've been a supporter of his work in the Senate, if not of his self-indulgent lifestyle.
Was he, as 'Uncle Teddy,' the rock and kindly patriarch of his extended family? They say he was. People I know who are close to the family say he was their port in a storm. Though more often than not, three sheets to the wind.
Am I bashing him? No. I'm recounting, not canonizing. He did become a responsible, highly effective, hard working senator. It's too bad he won't be here to see universal health care become the law of the land. I hope that law eventually has his name on it.
This is what I said about Senator Kennedy last summer during the Democratic Convention:
Yes, he's fighting a terrible disease, but he's got really good health care. He has fought to get affordable health care for all. He's fought in many other areas for the average American. His Senate record is remarkable. It's ironic and amazing that the least admired Kennedy brother has become arguably the best legislator in the country. I admire him for that.
I also said this:
In the end, Senator Kennedy either showed up to help Barack Obama or to make his own last great public appearance. It looked like the latter. Not because he may be dying. I'm sorry if that's true. Because he allowed his ego and personal animus [against the Clintons] to get in the way of supporting our presidential candidate. I'm even more sorry if that's true.
I will always admire Ted Kennedy for his many important contributions to our country.
Just as I will always imagine what it must have been like to be his wife. His children. Or Mary Jo Kopechne's parents.
May they all find and rest in peace.
Last December I wrote about Chappaquiccick, the 40-year-old elephant in the room. I wonder what, if anything, will come out now.