As I have listened to the fawning media coverage of the life and death of Edward Kennedy this week, there are a couple of major life events that have been mysteriously missing. In particular, there is one name rarely mentioned at all, or when it was, in a quick, passing whisper. As Mark Steyn points out in Airbrushing Out Mary Jo Kopechne:
When Kennedy cheerleaders do get around to mentioning her, it’s usually to add insult to fatal injury. As Teddy’s biographer Adam Clymer wrote, Edward Kennedy’s “achievements as a senator have towered over his time, changing the lives of far more Americans than remember the name Mary Jo Kopechne.”
You can’t make an omelette without breaking chicks, right? I don’t know how many lives the senator changed — he certainly changed Mary Jo’s — but you’re struck less by the precise arithmetic than by the basic equation: How many changed lives justify leaving a human being struggling for breath for up to five hours pressed up against the window in a small, shrinking air pocket in Teddy’s Oldsmobile? If the senator had managed to change the lives of even more Americans, would it have been okay to leave a couple more broads down there? Hey, why not? At the Huffington Post, Melissa Lafsky mused on what Mary Jo “would have thought about arguably being a catalyst for the most successful Senate career in history . . . Who knows — maybe she’d feel it was worth it.” What true-believing liberal lass wouldn’t be honored to be dispatched by that death panel?
We are all flawed, and most of us are weak, and in hellish moments, at a split-second’s notice, confronting the choice that will define us ever after, many of us will fail the test. Perhaps Mary Jo could have been saved; perhaps she would have died anyway. What is true is that Edward Kennedy made her death a certainty.
While it is one thing to “not speak ill of the dead”, it is quite another to have someone’s entire existence disappear down the memory hole because it is an inconvenient detail for “the Lion of liberalism”.
Another person who might beg to differ concerning the present canonization of Ted Kennedy is Robert Borck. It has been almost comical to hear commentators wax on and on about how Kennedy was “a man of principle” and, while he forcefully fought for his positions, he “never got personal or petty”. Really?!?
When a man is capable of what Ted Kennedy did that night in 1969 and in the weeks afterwards, what else is he capable of? An NPR listener said the senator’s passing marked “the end of civility in the U.S. Congress.” Yes, indeed. Who among us does not mourn the lost “civility” of the 1987 Supreme Court hearings? Considering the nomination of Judge Bork, Ted Kennedy rose on the Senate floor and announced that “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit down at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution . . . ”
Whoa! “Liberals” (in the debased contemporary American sense of the term) would have reason to find Borkian jurisprudence uncongenial, but to suggest the judge and former solicitor-general favored re-segregation of lunch counters is a slander not merely vile but so preposterous that, like his explanation for Chappaquiddick, only a Kennedy could get away with it. If you had to identify a single speech that marked “the end of civility” in American politics, that’s a shoo-in.
While a person’s life must be defined by more than a couple of mistakes, it is also true that, until those events are dealt with honestly, they will always remain as the unacknowledged gorilla in the room. It will be interesting to see this afternoon how many will remain willfully blind to the furry creature lurking in the corner!