Yep--it is hard for me to get it.
We have heard so much about Sen. Kennedy's legislative legacy.
I'll concede that my own political philosophy is skeptical of government power to remedy all ills--so I don't have that much appreciation for the substance of his accomplishments. That's not to say the government has no role; but where Sen. Kennedy and many others, usually bearing the label "liberal" or "progressive," are more likely to seek a government, particularly a federal-government, remedy, others of us think other remedies may do better. Also, those of us who are conservative or libertarian see other liberties eroded by such measures--whereas our progressive and liberal friends will either downplay those threats, or else downplay the liberty we see at risk. Private property rights and rights under the Second Amendment, for example.
All that said, I will readily give Kennedy his due for actual accomplishments in legislation: he was very effective for his causes. And I cannot bring myself to believe he did not act out of a sense of duty to others and to country.
And yet...(you knew it was coming)
There are aspects of his legacy that are troubling, to say the least! What is hard not to find outrageous is how these are dismissed as mere "flaws," that somehow do not form part of the whole picture:
The story is well enough reported, you don't need me to recap it. Kennedy behaved very badly: a young woman died, Kennedy clearly did very little help her and failed to report the whole incident. More troubling: the high-and-mighty Kennedy got off very lightly where ordinary people would have been subject to more legal consequences. Still more troubling is how those who pay him tribute and report the matter seem to have forgotten about the death of Mary Jo Kopechne and the suffering of parents who lost their only daughter.
This would be bad enough--but there is the astonishing allegation, by a biographer sympathetic to Kennedy, aired on NPR's "the Diane Rehm Show," that one of Kennedy's "favorite topics of humor" was jokes about Chappaquiddick.
> Working with the Soviets against President Reagan.
This shocking story has been around for a number of years, has been reported in reputable outlets, and not denied. In 1991, a London Times reporter, going through the newly opened Soviet archives, found a memorandum detailing how Sen. Kennedy made contact with Soviet authorities, proposing they work together to oppose President Reagan's approaches on foreign and defense policy. How in the world the great champion of justice (as we are told Sen. Kennedy was) can make common cause with the head of the Soviet Empire against the leader of the Free World--and still be considered a great champion of the downtrodden--is beyond me. Can anyone explain this?
> Abandonment of the unborn.
The claims of liberalism and progressivism to be the great champions of the weak, vulnerable and forgotten have rung hollow with me because, whenever I listen to the righteous rhetoric, I make the mental note: "...except for the unborn." Those who will say, "but you conservatives can be hypocrites too"--okay. My point is that progressive rhetoric stressing defense of the least will not ring true until it includes the unborn.
At one time, Senator Kennedy understood this. Here's a letter he wrote, back in 1971:
"While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.
"On the question of the individual's freedom of choice there are easily available birth-control methods and information which women may employ to prevent or postpone pregnancy. But once life has begun, no matter at what stage of growth, it is my belief that termination should not be decided merely by desire. ...
"When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception."
Of course, Sen. Kennedy took a different path. Kennedy has been a proud and aggressive leader to defend legal abortion across the board, to fund it with tax monies, and to do the same with "research" that destroys embryonic human beings.
In 1987, he famously took to the Senate floor to denounce the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in his scathing attack on the man, he said in "Robert Bork's America" women would be forced into back-alley abortions. Judge Bork's nomination, of course, ultimately was defeated, and Justice Anthony Kennedy (no relation so far as I know) was confirmed. Justice Kennedy provided the crucial, fifth vote to uphold Roe v. Wade in 1993; and when asked later, Bork said he would have provided the fifth vote to overturn Roe.
Kennedy is widely credited with tipping the balance against Bork; he, as much as anyone other than the five justices who cast their votes, ensured the survival of Roe and abortion-on-demand in this country to the present day.
Of course, what is so disturbing is that this has not been deemed a scandal by the Church hierarchy in the Archdiocese of Boston. Sen. Kennedy has been warmly embraced by the Boston Church all these years, leading up to the funeral Mass yesterday--in which the rubrics for a funeral Mass were disregarded, in the presence of the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston. Why were the prayers of the faithful so focused on Sen. Kennedy and his political achievements? Why was there a eulogy--at all--let alone by President Obama?
One set of rules for the high-and-mighty, another for the rest of us.
> Assaults on women. Another shocking feature of Kennedy's life that strangely seems to have fallen down the memory hole is how he has treated women in his life. In 1990, the late Michael Kelly--an acclaimed journalist who lost his life in Iraq--wrote a searing profile on Kennedy for GQ Magazine. It's a long piece, but two episodes are detailed that should deeply offend anyone:
>Trying to pick up a couple of congressional pages outside the Capitol. They were under 18.
> Assaulting a waitress in a restaurant in drunken stupor, in the company of Sen. Chris Dodd.
Why is it that none of this is deemed to tell us anything important about the man? No, what we are told that matters is he was a very powerful and effective legislator, and because he helped enact a lot of legislation that brought a lot of change (all true), this is the main story of who Kennedy was.
I think the picture is more problematic, for the reasons I cited above. Somehow, I think were it anyone but a Kennedy, the remembrance would be more muted.
What do you say?