Remembering Ted Kennedy

I was sad to hear of the passing of Ted Kennedy this week. While his policy views often stood in stark contrast with those held by many Latter-day Saints in the United States, he was, nevertheless, a consummate legislator who truly knew how to put political differences aside and reach across the aisle to find common ground on pressing issues facing our country. More importantly, though, and in spite of whatever mistakes he may have made in his life, Ted Kennedy struck me as a good man intent on making America a better place. He is also one who seemed to take to Mormons, from his long-running friendship with the late Wayne Owens, who served as Kennedy’s Chief of Staff for over two years before running for congress himself and who always insisted that Kennedy meet with LDS Church presidents when in Utah, to his close bonds with Senator Orrin Hatch and former Senator Gordon Smith, with whom he often worked across the aisle to produce a good deal of significant bipartisan legislation.

Of his differences with Hatch, Kennedy once said: “We have a difference in terms of perhaps how we are going to achieve the objectives, but I don’t really feel that I have a difference with Orrin in terms of what the objectives ought to be. If you build upon that kind of understanding and respect, you can get a lot of things done.”

Kennedy’s relationships with these men were clearly much deeper than any sort of convenient political arrangement though.

Kennedy was one of the keynote speakers at a Memorial Service for Owens after his unexpected passing in 2002. Owens’ son said that Kennedy “gave a loud, funny storytelling talk that meant a lot to our family.”

When Smith’s son committed suicide in 2003, Kennedy reached out to him repeatedly, approaching him with tears in his eyes, often unable to speak. Kennedy and Hatch went on to co-author the introduction to a book Smith wrote in 2006 that reflected on his son’s death.  Upon hearing of Kennedy’s passing, Smith said: “I consider it one of my life privileges to have worked with him across the aisle on many issues. It has been a pleasure and a privilege knowing him.”

In the wake of Kennedy’s death, Hatch penned a column in Newsweek, in which he noted:

I remember a time in my life when I was falsely accused of impropriety and was being savaged in the press. At the same time, my father, Jesse, was dying, and he slipped away in the midst of this tumult. Sadly, many of my Senate colleagues avoided me until I was cleared of all wrongdoing. But not Ted Kennedy. He called and consoled me, talking about his struggle to come to terms with the death of his father and brothers. Concerning the press battles, he said, “Ah, Orrin, everyone knows you did nothing wrong. Everything will work out.” He was the only one, Republican or Democrat, who did that.

Hatch also spoke at Kennedy’s Memorial Service two days ago (see here, here and here) and shared a number of touching anecdotes regarding “his dear friend,” a couple of which I thought were relevant to recount here.

The first involved Hatch’s former administrative assistant, Frank Manson, who had just become the Mission President of the Boston, Massachusetts mission. Hatch said Manson called him soon thereafter requesting several favors: whether Hatch would be willing to address the mission’s 200 missionaries, whether he would ask Kennedy to come speak as well, and whether he could ask Kennedy to secure Faneuil Hall for the meeting. Hatch said he’d try:

“On one occasion after a particularly late night in the Senate” Hatch said Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd were ‘feeling no pain’ (a little tipsy), and while Hatch was walking off the Senate floor, “Teddy put his arm around me and he said, oh, Orrin, I want you to come up to Hyannis Port and I want you to go sailing with me. Yes. You want to do this? Yes, I want you to do that. Yes. I said, now, Teddy, I have a favor to ask of you. He said, you do, so what’s that? I said do you remember Frank Manson, my administrative assistant? He said oh, yes, good guy, good guy.

“I said, well, you know, he’s asked that you and I come and speak to his — and I said he’s now the mission president in the Mormon church, over 200 Mormon young missionaries in Boston, Massachusetts. My hometown, and I said yes…. well, how about he would like you and me to come up and speak to his 200 young missionaries. He said done. Just like that. I said, well, I have another favor to ask of you. What’s that? I said, well, he would like you to get Faneuil Hall. He said done.

“So the next day I got into the office and I got this nice letter for Teddy. And I got it over to him. And I saw him later in the day and he’s holding that letter and his hands were shaking. And he said, Orrin — he said, what else did I agree to last night? …After telling these things, my eyes start to water, my nose starts to run. It was just a mess, I tell you. But in any event, Teddy Kennedy and Orrin Hatch appeared before 200 young Mormon missionaries in Faneuil Hall and they will never forget the tremendous altruistic talk that he gave to them on that day.

“Well, all I can say is it was really something. He didn’t try to weasel out of it. Instead, he produced the hall and he gave that beautiful speech. I was impressed as usual. And those missionaries will never forget that. And though they were of a different faith, he commended them for their willingness to serve a cause bigger than themselves and thanked them for their selflessness. This is just one example of the graciousness of my dear friend, Ted Kennedy.”

The second involved the controversy surrounding the completion of the Boston Temple:

“I was approached by several people working in the temple and informed that the city would not allow a spire to be placed on the top of the temple with an angel on top of it as is customary on Mormon temples.”I immediately called Ted and asked for help. Not long after that conversation, he called me back and said, ‘All of western Massachusetts will see the Angel Gabriel on the top of the Mormon temple.’

“Though I was tempted to leave it alone, I had to inform Teddy it was actually the Angel Moroni, a prominent figure in the LDS faith. And at that point, Teddy replied, does this mean I’m going to get another Book of Mormon for Christmas? Of course he did.”

Whatever one’s views were of Kennedy’s politics, I think we can all join in mourning the passing of an elder statesman who gave nearly fifty years of public service to the Senate and who fought tirelessly during that time in support of many policies he intended to aid the poor and less fortunate, often reaching across the aisle to build consensus in order to do so.

[Please remember to be respectful and civil in your comments]

50 comments for “Remembering Ted Kennedy

  1. Former Republican Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania credits Kennedy with helping him rise from obscurity on the old Labor and Welfare Committe. Schweiker wanted to take up the cause of diabetes but wanted to get Committee Chairman Kennedy’s approval first — some Committee Chairmen run their committees like a fiefdom or a dictatorship. Kennedy told Schweiker to not only take the issue and run with it but that he would support him all the way — and he did, according to Schweiker. He added: For a committee chairman to be that helpful to a low-ranking member of the minority party was almost unheard of, but he did it.

  2. Thank you for this post. I’ve been thinking about Ted Kennedy all week and trying to process my feelings about him, his accomplishments and all the media attention that has come with his death. My personal thought, before reading this post, was primarily that he could have spent his life doing many things — especially considering the family fortune that he had access to, but Ted Kennedy chose to spend his adult life engaged in serving our country as a senator. Power, status, politics and term limits aside, our country needs individuals who are willing to serve.

  3. I remember the steeple debate in Boston and Kennedy’s support for the Church in that battle. We didn’t get the full steeple we should have, but his endorsement and political clout I believe helped. What I recall being said at the time (but can’t find it written right now) was, “The only thing you see rising above the trees in New England are church steeples. This building deserves it’s steeple.” Though a bit less elegant, I did find a similar citation: “I think if other churches are going to have their expressions in terms of spires this one should. Fair is fair.”

    Some may find many shortcomings in his life, but it’s not hard to find plenty of examples of when he stood up for correct principles.

  4. Ted Kennedy was a true workhorse. I’m glad he was able to work on the policies and ideals dear to his heart and those of his two brothers taken from this earth so early in their lives by madmen. I liken him to Captain Moroni in the Senate.

    “Yea if all Senators had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Ted Kennedy, behold, the very powers of corruption and complacency would have been shaken forever; yea laziness and idleness would never have power over the hearts of Senators of the United States.”

    Then perhaps more things would get done. :)

  5. Great write-up. I loved the Maria Shriver interview on Meet the Press this morning–it was great to hear about the man from the context of his family.

  6. As one of the few Mormons who agreed with Kennedy on just about every political and legal issue, I have been a bit sad this week…not for any personal reasons, but more historical reasons. Thank you for the kind post.

  7. Thank you for this post. I have never been a Kennedy fan, but I appreciate learning these good things about him. It’s nice to get past the rhetoric.

  8. Thanks for this, Marc. I needed to hear these things about Kennedy. He’s been…not my favorite, but it appears there is much I never knew about him.

  9. As the weekend continued I became fascinated by the life documentary presented by CNN, titled ‘In The Words Of Teddy Kennedy’. I thought the documentary was a beautiful tribute, very nicely put together. I developed such deep admiration for this man, as I watched this.
    Ted Kennedy really was one of those ‘larger than life people’. It really is astonishing, to review his life and see the gigantic challenges that he faced all through out his life, especially about a 10 year period where they repeatedly kept coming. With each crisis, each death of a family member, you could see that while each one left a mark on him, he kept picking himself back up again!
    With his jovial spirit, he astonishingly continued to persevere forward, devoting his mind, heart, and hands to the service of others. Watching this documentary, I realized that Ted Kennedy lived his entire life, standing for a greater purpose than self, and courageously spoke out for all the issues he believed in. Not once did he allow the ‘grip of fear’ to get a hold of him.

  10. I believe Ted Kennedy’s irresponsible actions at Chappaquiddick and the coverup/silence afterward, trumps any good he may have accomplished later in life.

    Ted Kennedy should have served jail time for Chappaquiddick, thus ending his senate career in 1969. Indeed, I would have respect for the man if he had admitted his wrong doing and then accepted the legal consequences for his actions. Instead, he played dumb, hid behind his lawyers and refused to speak about Chappaqiddick again.

    RIP Mary Jo Kopechne. She is the person we should lower the flags for.

  11. I believe Ted Kennedy’s irresponsible actions at Chappaquiddick and the coverup/silence afterward, trumps any good he may have accomplished later in life.

    Luckily for all of us, we aren’t asked to make those kinds of determinations.

  12. I know we all want our leaders to be perfect, to have a moral-ethical-religious-workplace and homelife kind of symmetry, but the fact is that most great men and women, whether in politics or any other field of endeavor, are flawed, often deeply, and full of contradictions. One need look no further than David in the Old Testament. I found Kennedy’s personal behavior for much of his life deplorable, but given the publicly dysfunctional family he grew up in, I think I have some understanding as to the why. That he was able to rise above his own failings and through sheer longevity amass an admirable record of legislative accomplishment is still something to admire and respect in him.

  13. It seems Chris H. and I differ on our feelings for Ted or even Orrin but I’ll admitt that Ted was a great rep for his state. I only wish my Senators represented my state with the force and zeal as did Ted. Orrin was a good friend. From my point of view that means alot as we all have really few good firends. I was very hard in another blog about Ted and Orrin, maybe I’ll leave the judging to God and hope I get a fair shake as well.

  14. Marc, I can’t agree with your conclusions about one of the least moral senators of our generation, but you present your ideas well and write beautifully, so thanks for this post.

  15. Watching George W. Bush at the funeral of Teddy Kennedy on Saturday was, to say the very least, amusing. It’s always great fun to witness the members of the vast right wing conspiracy confronted head-on with the theological flaws that are inherent in their philosophy. Watching that event with my pal, Kevin Swanwick, we both were mesmerized and just slightly overjoyed to be reminded yet again that the basic tenets of Liberalism are in perfect harmony with our Christianity – our Catholicism: feed the hungry, shelter the poor and clothe the naked. Oh, how I wish the camera would have cut to Bush’s face the moment he was confronted with the most famous line (and justly so) from the Gospel according to Matthew:

    “I tell you this: whatever you did to the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me.”

    Jesus of Nazareth

    One can only imagine how uncomfortable that passage from the scriptures must have made him feel. Or how about the Sermon on the Mount?

    “Blessed are the peace makers
    For they shall be called Sons of God.”

    I imagine being confronted with the words of Jesus Christ might make old George just a tad uneasy. The prayers that were offered up by the youngest members of the Kennedy clan, in Teddy’s own words, were the most touching part of the entire day:

    “That human beings be measured not by what they cannot do. That quality health care becomes a fundamental right and not a privilege. That old policies of race and gender die away. That newcomers be accepted, no matter their color or place of birth. That the nation stand united against violence, hate and war. That the work begins anew, and the dream lives on. We pray to the Lord.”

    Lord hear our prayer.

    After the mass had ended, and Kevin and I headed into town to get a cup of coffee, I was almost stunned by the good cheer I felt. Ted Kennedy’s funeral was truly a joyous event. Truth be told, it was damned-near therapeutic! The politics of joy as opposed to the politics of fear. There ain’t nothin’ like it in the world, Baby!

    The stark contrasts between the ideals of the Progressive movement and the right wing’s backwards and greedy ideology were out in public Saturday for all to compare and contrast at Our Lady of Perpetual Comfort Church in Boston. The differences were so obvious, you could not have missed them had you tried.

    Tom Degan
    Goshen, NY

  16. Tom;

    I doubt Bush was uncomfortable at all with:

    “I tell you this: whatever you did to the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me.”

    Why do you confuse robbing Peter to pay Paul, as in government programs, with true charity? Studies clearly conclude that the “right wing” you deride gives more to charity, gives more volunteer time, even donates more blood than the liberals you admire. Would you care to wager on who gave more to charity, Bush or Kennedy? How about you versus me in that regard?

    I do not doubt that Kennedy meant to help the poor, but I believe his ideas are dysfunctional. They really serve to keep the poor as wards of a Democratic party all the while robbing those providing for the poor (taxpayers) of the good feelings associated with true charity. Is it too much to ask that you not denigrate those of us that are demonstrably more charitable than the liberals you so admire?

    Jeff Hoyt

  17. I found this, which will be published in tomorrow’s SL Trib, very appropriate for this discussion:

    It was a wonderful sight that greeted the Sabbath day. The American flag, on the dedicated grounds of the House of the Lord in Bountiful, Utah, flying half-staff in honor of a fallen American icon: Senator Teddy Kennedy, champion of gay marriage, liberal abortion rights and high taxes upon the working citizen. He was a shrewd man, addicted to power and expert at wresting language until is was incapable of holding truth. He lived his life as a distinguished alcoholic, philander and adulterer who was, regrettably, plagued by poor nighttime vision, cowardice in canals and a poor memory.

    The gesture shows the merciful and forgiving side of central LDS Church administrators who are dedicated to preserving the right of the Church to speak out on moral issues, while also practicing solemn respect in the shadows of the temple for a man who spent his life violating virtually every moral standard declared sacred by revered ancient American prophets. I trust we will all find a way to rejoice in the Church’s willingness to unite with the sagging gentile world in celebration of a life lived to the ripest.

  18. That is appropriate, JMax. And not at all self-superior, small-minded, or presumptuous. Whoever decided to resist the impulse to trample upon a man’s grave by writing such a thoughtful letter should be commended for his humanity, his beam-less eyes, and, perhaps most importantly, his ability to convincingly speak for the leaders of the LDS Church. Bravo, to such a man.

  19. Brad:

    “I have great respect for all persons that courageously face the struggles of same-sex attraction. You are to be commended for your valiant efforts and the ocassional slip into stereotypical nastiness deserves compassionate understanding.”

  20. I would like to think that, if I was guilty of as great a lapse of virtue and common morals as Ted Kennedy was at Chappaquiddick, I would have had the decency to retire from public life, and work out my repentance between me and God.

  21. Why the focus on Chappaquiddick? If I understand the story correctly, it was an accident. Kennedy fled the scene in horror and only came out when the body was found. He pled guilty to the only charge he could be guilty of – fleeing the scene. He asked for forgiveness of his constituents, and apparently vowed and accomplished to work extra hard as a Senator. It seems he tried to show he was more than the brother of famous politicians, that he was more than a frat boy.

    It seems against the principles we are taught in church to forgive, particularly to someone who pleads for forgiveness.

    I guess I can expect, on the day I die, some people out there will take certain quotes from my political blog and eulogize me with them.

  22. Preach it, JMax. Down with those silly church leaders! How dare they decide to honor or respect a deceased man who was so vehemently disliked by so many important talk radio hosts?

  23. Dan, the focus on Chappaquiddick is because it appears to beautifully illustrate the idea that elites are sometimes treated differently under the law than others.

  24. Sean,

    So they are. And I don’t question that premise. But why try to tarnish his legislative legacy over an incident that he clearly admitted fault to, paid what a judge considered his punishment? It seems more at work here. For comparison’s sake, when John McCain passes away, I won’t focus on how he mistreated his first wife, but rather, if I intend on attempting to tarnish his legacy, instead focus on his hypocrisy on his stance on torture. I won’t attempt to tarnish McCain’s legacy whilst he is being buried, because that’s just poor form.

  25. Dan, the Chappaquiddick incident was clearly more than stepping out on someone’s wife. How much more, God only knows. Some focus on this and other mistakes in Kennedy’s life is a natural part of remembering a public figure. Just as open adulation on the part of admirers and friends is natural.

  26. Sean,

    I have no problem with trying to tarnish the legacy of a man who made an awful mistake, but doing it while his family and friends mourn his death? There’s just something completely wrong about that. I castigate Ronald Reagan these days, and others castigate Johnson or FDR. Perfectly fine. They are dead and gone. No one mourns their loss right now. Ted Kennedy just died. His wife is in mourning. His kids are in mourning. Others who were touched by his life are in mourning. This is not the time to bring up Chappaquiddick.

  27. Dan, your original question in #24 said nothing about timing. You were attempting to minimize the incident. I was telling you why I think people bring it up. I’ll leave it at that.

  28. Sean,

    My apologies, I thought it was clear. But yes, during mourning periods, it is just simply poor form to bring things like this up.

  29. This is really quite unfortunate. The comments here are making a very nice post into a spat about politics. So what if Kennedy was a rogue and an adulterer. I’ll bet that I can find someone you admire who was also a rogue and an adulterer. These failings really have little to do with his accomplishments.

    If you disagree with his politics, thats one thing. Do the human thing and keep your mouth shut while others express their feelings about someone who has just passed. Jumping on a memorial to say nasty things is just in poor taste.

    There is no reason to speak ill of the dead at his funeral.

  30. Just in case there is any doubt, the JMax posting above is not me. I think my reputation for avoiding public criticism of the church and her leaders and avoiding sites that permit such comments is well established. Thank you to Kaimi for alerting me.

  31. “I believe Ted Kennedy’s irresponsible actions at Chappaquiddick and the coverup/silence afterward, trumps any good he may have accomplished later in life.”

    I can see this on a conservative Republican blog, but as latter-day saints, do we believe in the power of the atonement, or not?

    I’ve met Mormons with this attitude. They want their sons to serve missions and make converts, but don’t want their sons to marry those converts, because of what they did in the past. Fortunately, there aren’t too many of those folks.

    When it comes to drinking and philandering, I am not sure that Ted Kennedy beat out John McCain. Kennedy just had a car accident that McCain did not.

  32. I have a negative impression of Kennedy overall. I only saw him as a politician, and that leaves me with an impression that a large part of his life was one of a silver spoon-fed, im/amoral and powermongering politician dedicated to himself and party over principle.

    I am grateful for this post, however. I can appreciate when those for whom I have no admiration give me a reason to admire them.

  33. In the scriptures we are told of rulers who sought to be just in their official actions but who were not morally upright in their personal lives. A mature understanding of history requires us to recognize that many of the people to whom Americans are indebted for founding a modern representative democracy were also participants in an economy that depended on the bondage of millions of men, women and children against their will.

    Those who want to advance their own political causes by setting up past and present political leaders as icons, de facto saints whom it is blasphemous to criticize, have often argued that the personal moral failings of such leaders were of no consequence, and should be either ignored or considered meaningless compared to the social benefit of the policies they promoted. On the other hand, the political opponents of such men and women have argued that their moral failings taint all of their policies and goals. And then there is the practice of many (like the writer who attacked George W. Bush’s participation in the Kennedy memorial service) who ascribe moral failure to anyone who disagrees with them on public policy.

    Thomas Jefferson’s contribution as principal author of the Declaration of Independence and his acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase must be weighed alongside his lifelong engagement in the slave plantation system and his tolerance of the use of slaves for the adulterous actions of his family (perhaps including himself).

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt held America together in Depression and war, even though many modern economists believe his policies lengthened the Depression. Most people gloss over his clear prejudice against the Japanese, manifested in his 1923 magazine article supporting the law excluding new Japanese immigrants (which applied to me when I was born) and his imprisonment for three years, without trial or even accusation, of 100,000 Japanese-Americans, most of them native-born citizens.

    One might think that the multiplication of information media would give us a more well-rounded picture of our political leaders, but every aspect of communication, including news reporting and education at all levels, has become agendified, instruments to tell people what to think, and the supporting argument used to short circuit all consideration of the pros and cons of any proposal is that the the people advancing it are either evil hypocrites or unbeatified saints.

    Sadly, our current President has gotten into the game in earnest, denouncing those who oppose his health care plan (whatever it may be) as apostates who, like Cain, are avoiding their “moral duty” to be the “keepers” of their brothers and sisters. As he declares the health insurance companies are our enemies, one wonders how large an investment the Kennedy family trusts hold in those same companies.

    While I shake my head over the assumption in the major news media that all Americans are subscribers to the myth of Camelot and the Kennedy martyrs, and the ability of that mythos to evoke emotion among viewers–and Nielsen ratings–on command, I do not begrudge Senator Kennedy’s family and friends the indulgence in fond remembrances of specific good acts and good intentions by the man (though the use of his funeral to put a religious gloss on a piece of legislation also breaches the polite moratorium on criticism and debate that his admirers assert).

    We Mormons, who believe that mortal life is not the final opportunity to repent, ought to be hopeful that the many people whom we know to be of mixed motives and actions will take the opportunity extended to them by Christ, and by the keys entrusted to us in the temples, to become the best children of God that they can be. I suspect that those of us who are the most vociferous critics of Ted Kennedy’s policies and his personal life may be assigned in the Spirit World to give such men and women another opportunity to receive the grace and forgiveness of Christ, to take them another copy of the Book of Mormon. As Ammon and his brothers might say, we cannot write off anyone as unredeemable.

  34. #3

    Power, status, politics and term limits aside, our country needs individuals who are willing to serve.

    Given that this level of politics is intertwined with such power, prestige, and privilege, working in congress can hardly be termed as “service” in the way people generally define it. Yes, we need people to do the work, but we need people who are “willing to serve” as garbage men, too.

    The very thought that there is a “Kennedy seat” in the senate is–to rip off Pelosi–un-American.


    I have no problem with trying to tarnish the legacy of a man who made an awful mistake…

    Chappaquiddick is part of his “legacy.”

    …but doing it while his family and friends mourn his death? There’s just something completely wrong about that.

    As we all know, Kennedy is a controversial character with highlights and incredible low points. If you don’t want anyone to bring up the many negatives in Kennedy’s life, you probably shouldn’t have a discussion at all. But to only hear the glowing reports in a man who also spread a whole lot of crap, misrepresents his real legacy.

    I don’t think dying requires granting sainthood to anyone. Nor do I think that it serves our country to pretend he was some kind of role model. I wouldn’t protest at a funeral (we all know who does that) but T&S isn’t the Kennedy compound.

    FWIW, I’ve informed my family repeatedly that at my funeral I want to be cremated and have my ashes spread in the backyard (preferably by yellow tulips). Then I want my family and friends to eat chocolate and artichokes and sit around talking about all the great things I did, how much I adore my family, and how freaking obnoxious I am. Truth to power.


    When it comes to drinking and philandering, I am not sure that Ted Kennedy beat out John McCain. Kennedy just had a car accident that McCain did not.

    I was not a John McCain supporter, as is well documented. And, yes, I’d actually like to elect someone who was actually faithful to his/her spouse because, to me, adultery speaks to a very fundamental level of dishonesty and deceit. But to minimize Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick to “a car accident” is utterly disingenuous, and to imply (as others did) that he “manned up” and took his licking is simply contrary to history.

    Wow, it’s great to have partial internet access restored. Being quiet for so long is just painful!

  35. Raymond (#37):
    Yours strikes me as an exceedingly relevant, fair, and superb comment. Thank you for sharing.

  36. Dan, you say that as if (1) I’ll be praising the legacy of W. and (2) that I actually called for disrespect.

    Outside of private family observances, any reasonable discussion of the “legacy” of a public figure will generally include both the positive and the negative. As it should.

    BTW, when does the “mourning period” officially end? Given their royal status, I’m guessing Kennedys (Kennedies? Kennedy’s?) get a longer period for silencing the opposition. But I’m still wondering how discussing Kennedy’s well-known character and behavior “tarnishes his legacy.” I’m pretty sure he took care of that ages ago.

    …Captain Moroni in the Senate.

    My apologies to Uncle Moroni.

  37. Alison,

    The point of bringing up Chappaquidick, particularly during a time of mourning is vengeful in nature, and as I said earlier, in poor form. You don’t bring it up and then show how he tried to live above the life he was leading to that time. It’s as if the events at Chappaquidick were in a vacuum, as if nothing else mattered. If he truly didn’t do anything as a Senator to prove himself a better man than he was in 1969, then surely the point of bringing up Chappaquidick would be quite valid. But that’s not the point, and never is in these kinds of matters. It’s reflexive in nature, a naturalized habit. You must get the shot in if anyone talks well of the man. Hence why it is poor form.

  38. Chappaquiddick is part of his “legacy.”

    I agree. But it is not, as #13 states, the *only* thing that matters. I think the full picture should be viewed. However, the fact that it happened 40 years ago does make a difference to me. It makes that one act become a footnote, not the only thing. With four grandchildren on SCHIP, I am grateful for his work. He bottomed out and chose to live the rest of his life otherwise. That matters. That is what the gospel is about.

    But then, I’m a fornicating alcoholic. Haven’t done either of those in 30+ years, but there are people who choose to see only that year of my life. Nothing else matters to them.

    And, yes, I’d actually like to elect someone who was actually faithful to his/her spouse because, to me, adultery speaks to a very fundamental level of dishonesty and deceit.

    Then I am sure that you were delighted with Obama’s election. I loved that photo of him in the private elevator: putting his suit jacket around Michelle since she was cold, doing a little head bump while the secret service looked away, a bit embarrassed at the intimacy.

    They set a lovely example tot he nation of a strong marriage, as Gerald and Betty Ford did as well.

    But to minimize Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick to “a car accident” is utterly disingenuous,

    I’m sorry, is there evidence that it was intentional? I hadn’t heard that theory.

    I don’t remember the speaker, because it was my first general conference and I didn’t really understand the whole general authority thing yet, but I remember someone saying that it is not in time of crisis that character is forged, just displayed. That is why I don’t see much difference between John McCain and Ted Kennedy as far as their drinking and womanizing habits. Their behavior was much the same except that Kennedy had that car accident.

  39. Naismith,
    There’s evidence that Kopechne died because of Kennedy’s negligence in failing to alert the police of the accident. She was probably alive for hours down there. Even if that’s not true and he wasn’t responsible for Kopechne’s death–a big if–his actions after the accident were indefensible and reprehensible.

    What this means about how we should regard Kennedy in death 40 years after the fact is up to each person to decide. But we shouldn’t reduce Chappaquiddick to just an accident.

  40. Tom,

    Nobody has reduced it to just an “accident,” least of all Kennedy. It’s okay though, we’ve crossed the line, and apparently it is acceptable for some to speak ill of those who recently died. I’ll make a note of this, and keep watch when certain conservative leaders pass away. I’ll watch for how often certain bloggers ask people to refrain from going negative about the individual.

    I want to note in particular how previous commentators here on T&S were respectful when President Ronald Reagan passed away, even though he was a divisive figure who armed our enemies and who cut and run when terrorists hit our marines.

  41. Nobody has reduced it to just an “accident,”

    Naismith did twice.

    I don’t care about the speaking ill of the dead thing with public figures and I don’t revere any current conservative (or liberal) politicians, so whatever.

  42. #42

    The point of bringing up Chappaquidick, particularly during a time of mourning is vengeful in nature, and as I said earlier, in poor form.

    There are a lot of reasons other than vengeance to discuss it (even at the “time of mourning”). As I said, when “remembering” a public figure, only discussing positive and honorable things is, in my opinion, harmful–particularly with a man who publicly did so many negative and dishonorable things.

    You don’t bring it up and then show how he tried to live above the life he was leading to that time.

    No, but I didn’t bring it up at all. In the context of this thread, I think the positive was well outlined.

    I want to note in particular how previous commentators here on T&S were respectful when President Ronald Reagan passed away…

    The real question is how many commentators here demanded that anyone bringing up disagreements with Reagan should shut up for some unspecified period.


    However, the fact that it happened 40 years ago does make a difference to me. It makes that one act become a footnote, not the only thing.

    A footnote? Of course it’s not the only thing, but you drive a car into a river (after partying all night Kennedy-style), run away while your passenger drowns, go home to clean (and likely sober) up, gather your lawyers, and finally confess the next day after police find the body in your car—and it’s a footnote?

    Which part of that was “the accident”?

    Personally, while the time factor makes a difference to me as well, I’m much more impressed with someone who owns up, tells the truth, and doesn’t use connections to get out of consequences.

    Then I am sure that you were delighted with Obama’s election.

    Yes, because it’s obvious that the only thing I want in a president is a guy who keeps his pants on away from home.

    Spot on, Tom.

  43. Good analogy to Reagan, Alison.

    On the Reagan eulogy thread, I laid down some ground rules in the first comment:

    Maybe I’m paranoid, but this thread worries me a little, so I wanted to take a second to discuss proper ettiquette. Ronald Reagan was a somewhat polarizing figure, and the reaction to his passing, in other quarters of the blogosphere, has been quite varied. In particular, many bloggers and commenters elsewhere have posted harsh critiques of President Reagan’s policies.
    Adam has expressed a sentiment that many members undoutedly share. What has been expressed is personal sentiment, not detailed political analysis.
    I suspect that if readers critical of Reagan use the comments of this thread to critique his politics, it will be viewed by some other readers as inappropriate ill-speaking of the dead, or as inappropriate political critique of Adam’s eulogy. That could create the potential for the kind of ugly personal comment wars that we try to avoid.
    So, let me suggest that commenters take care in commenting to this thread. Readers critical of Reagan’s policies are encouraged to move on, and not post any such critiques in comments here. There are many other more appropriate places to discuss politics, including Reagan’s politics. (E.g., here or here). Thank you.

  44. I’ve gone ahead and shut down comments on this thread while also moderating a recent string of comments that deviated drastically from both the spirit of the main post and our comment policy here at T&S (apologies to those whose innocuous comments were swept away as well).

    Clearly, Kennedy’s legacy will be the subject of appropriate debate for years to come. This thread, however, was not intended as a place to debate Kennedy’s policies or politics (there are many, many other places providing outlets for such discussions). I apologize to readers for any ugliness that may have resulted from my failure to moderate this discussion better (I’m currently abroad with intermittent access to my computer).

    In closing comments on this post, I thought I’d share a couple of final thoughts.

    First, I don’t think any of us are defined by a single act, mistake, or incident. While certainly of relevance in any discussion on his legacy, I don’t think the Chappaquiddick “defines” Kennedy. It certainly is an incident, however, that impacted the course of the rest of his life. In his forthcoming memoir, Kennedy called his actions during and after the accident “inexcusable.” He acknowledged that while he had to live with the decisions he made for forty years, Kopechne’s family endured much worse. Of this, he wrote that “Atonement is a process that never ends.” Ultimately, God will judge Kennedy, as he will all of us, for whatever culpability is his, while we are left to make sense of the whole of Kennedy’s life from our own limited perspectives. Any assessment of Kennedy as somehow the personification of evil (as some seem to have suggested, both in earlier comments and the string of remarks I moderated) are wildly off the mark in my view. While he was a man with faults, some well-known because of his prominence, there was also much good to him (which has rightly been focused on in the wake of his passing).

    Second, since writing this post, I have been contacted by individuals who had personal knowledge of other instances in which Kennedy played a critical role in helping the Church. While I’m not at liberty to share these (bummer, I know), they nonetheless reinforce for me the impression that the Church’s act in lowering its flags to half-mast after Kennedy’s passing was a substantive act in honor of a man who, whatever his faults (or his politics), had also been a critical ally for the Church at times.

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