“Mary Jo Kopechne and Chappaquiddick: America’s Selective Memory”

The idea that Edward M. Kennedy could be a viable national politician – let alone a much-admired and lionized political figure – has convinced millions of everyday citizens and succeeding generations of conservative activists that among the elites of academia, politics, and the media two standards of behavior exist: One for liberal Democrats and another for conservative Republicans. Along with sweeping changes in immigration law, soaring oratory, and strengthening the nation’s social safety net, this reservoir of class resentment is also part of Kennedy’s legacy.

Liberals in the media pretend not to see this. Or rather, they blame those who feel aggrieved. This very morning, my old friend James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly employed the usual euphemisms about Kennedy’s behavior in his post – and then launched a preemptive strike against anyone who might view Teddy’s life with gimlet eyes. “A flawed man, who started unimpressively in life — the college problems, the silver-spoon boy senator, everything involved with Chappaquiddick — but redeemed himself, in the eyes of all but the committed haters, with his bravery and perseverance and commitment to the long haul,” Fallows wrote.

I like Jim Fallows, and stand in awe of Kennedy’s effectiveness as a politician myself. But hold on a minute: The “college problems” were serial cheating. The “silver-spoon” stuff, I suppose refers to, among other things, the speeding and reckless driving that ominously foreshadowed Chappaquiddick. And that phrase “redeeming himself in the eyes of all but the committed haters,” well, the problem with that is that to many people, redemption implies that a sinner has come clean….

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…Not reporting a fatal traffic accident is a felony in most places. On Martha’s Vineyard, if the driver is a Kennedy, it’s not even a matter of official curiosity: The local police chief never even asked Kennedy why he waited nine hours to report what had happened. The state of Massachusetts, citing Kennedy’s excessive speed on the bridge, suspended his license for six months. That was it….

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…In protesting Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, Kennedy thundered, “Is there one system of justice for the average citizen and another system for the high and mighty?” These words, uttered five years after Chappaquiddick, are ubiquitous on conservative websites where they are offered up as evidence, not only of Kennedy’s hypocrisy, but the mainstream media’s as well….

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…I believe Teddy Kennedy was aware of this reality, and accepted it. Twenty-nine years ago, after the inquest cast doubt on his version of events at Chappaquiddick, Kennedy briefly took issue with the report, then went about his duties: In a speech to a Boston business group, he lambasted Nixon’s decision to extend the Vietnam War into Cambodia, he consented to his first broadcast interview since Bobby Kennedy’s death, and he kept an appointment to narrate Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. As Time magazine noted at the time, this engagement included a bit of irony: The opening lines of Lincoln read by Kennedy that night included this passage. “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We … will be remembered in spite of ourselves.”

from Politics Daily

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