Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kennedy 'legacy'

This will probably provoke some folks. There are folks who have a tremendous attachment to the Kennedys and the sort of New Deal, Irish Catholic identity associated with them. As a subhead on a column by Joel Achenbach, in the Washington Post said, "It is hard to explain the Kennedy mystique to anyone who never experienced the tumult of the 1960s."

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:

> Chappaquiddick.

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?


Anonymous said...

Thank you Fr. for putting into words many of my thoughts!
I am a young Catholic, confused and saddened by the Kennedy legacy. I'll admit I don't know a lot about politics, Sen. Kennedy in particular. I do know he was not pro-life in his political career, yet considered himself Catholic. I have such a hard time with that.
While watching the funeral, I, too, was annoyed by the endless tributes to his life. And when they mentioned the poor and weakest that he so diligently served, I, too, was shouting "but what about the most vulnerable, weakest: the unborn!!!" I just couldn't forget that.
I was saddened the clergy at the Mass, going along with all this. It is something that must've gone on for some time throughout his life, to be given such esteem at his funeral. Very sad and disturbing.

caite said...

Oh without question, the Kennedy lovers are going to come out and thump you on the head for this

I do remember the tumult of the 60's..I was young but I well remember it. And I remember the mystique that grew up about the Kennedy's, due in no small part to their portrayal in the media. A young, handsome president with a beautiful wife and two very cute children, the images of this clean cut extended family playing on the lawns of Hyannis Port, the beautiful ocean in the background.

It was a dream we all wanted to be part of. A dream we wanted to be real because society seemed to be coming unhinged. A myth that survived because tragically he died so young and in an era when the media could control the damage of the family's darker side ...including with out question Ted's behavior in Chappaquiddick, unquestioned years of alcohol abuse, rumors of womanizing by 'the boys' can go on.

And let, with all this, their sense of entitlement seems to survive.

The behavior of the Church in Boston, with all the issues you raise surrounding the funeral, is nothing short of a scandal. Ted's support of abortion, going so far as to vote against a partial birth abortion ban, can not possibly be ignored....but then it was.
Is it all about money, power? I don't know, but it is wrong.

Jason said...

Forgiveness and mercy conservative style:
If a fellow conservative, say Deal Hudson or John Ensign, strays morally, well it was a long time ago and everybody's human and you need to forgive him and move on.
If a liberal, say Ted Kennedy or Bill Clinton, strays morally, he should never be forgiven and his wayward behavior must be picked up and used as a cudgel to assail all others on the other side of any argument no matter how unrelated.

Father Martin Fox said...


Your comparisons are inapt.

I haven't been all that tough on President Clinton; I think the man must have had an addiction, because his actions with Lewinsky were so reckless, and he did misuse his power over her. But I would not be as critical of him as of Kennedy.

As for Ensign--thus far, it appears he is guilty of adultery and his family of some sort of payoff. From what I gather, Hudson was guilty of adultery.

Are you saying that adultery is the same as the death of Kopechne, and the assault of the waitress in the DC restaurant? Really?

People go to jail for what Kennedy did to Kopechne and to the waitress; do you advocate sending people to jail for adultery?

Finally, it's obvious you don't read my blog, if you think I'm easy on Republicans. Actually, I bet if you use the search feature on the main page, you'll see that I have posted many more comments critical of the GOP than of Democrats. Go check it out and come back here and tell us the count, please?

Anonymous said...


What planet do you inhabit?

If a conservative spits on the sidewalk, he is railroaded out of public life.

Your current president's college transcripts, his passport records, his thesis, and his birth certificate are "confidential." Why??????????

A MA/JD thesis of a conservative VA gubernatorial contender is splashed all over the place to stop him from possibly slowing the liberals' devolution to a world dominated by nightmares/unnecessary hells wrapped in allegories.

If a lib murders a woman, it's "eggs get broken to make an omelet" - acceptable loss . . .

Wise up.

I. M. Scandalized

JJ--45 said...

Father Fox:

We need more bishops & priests like you!!!