GrassTopsUSA Exclusive CommentaryBy Don Feder 08-27-09
After spending the day driving around Massachusetts, listening to nauseating tributes to our senior Senator, I wish cars came equipped with air-sickness bags.
Known as the â€œliberal lion of the Senate,â€ Edward M. Kennedy was a fitting symbol for his creed â€“ intellectually flabby, detached from reality, arrogant, self-righteous, hypocritical and, ultimately, useless.
Kennedy, who sat in the United States Senate for 47 years (an obscenity in itself), was literally Massachusettsâ€™ senator-for-life. If he was in a coma and brain-dead â€“ he would have been re-elected. Such is the power of the Camelot myth in Americaâ€™s bluest state.
The man who thought work was lifting a glass of Chivas, never met a tax he didnâ€™t want to raise, someone elseâ€™s money he didnâ€™t want to spend, a new bureaucracy he didnâ€™t want to create, a gun he didnâ€™t want to confiscate, an illegal immigrant he didnâ€™t want to embrace, or an unborn child whose existence he didnâ€™t want to imperil â€“ the last in the name of a womanâ€™s right-to-choose.
Ted was big on a womanâ€™s right-to-choose â€“ except when a woman chose to reject his sexual advances.
The Senator was the youngest of 9 children born to famed bootlegger and Nazi sympathizer Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and his long-suffering wife, Rose Fitzgerald â€“ the first in a long line of women victimized by a Kennedy male. Ted emerged from the low end of a gene pool that wasnâ€™t particularly deep to begin with.
Suspended from Harvard for cheating (he got a friend to take a Spanish test for him), Kennedy avoided the Korean War by enlisting in the Army for two years and using family connections to get assigned to guard the NATO Headquarters in Paris from ferocious headwaiters armed with baguettes. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization must have slept soundly knowing that Teddy was awake.
Camelotâ€™s Prince of Wales inherited JFKâ€™s Senate seat. Having done absolutely nothing to earn membership in the worldâ€™s most powerful deliberative body, other than being a Kennedy, Ted felt the office was his by right.
Then-Massachusetts Attorney General Edward J. McCormack Jr. disagreed. McCormack challenged Kennedy in the Democratic primary. Kennedy won handily, but McCormack had fun taunting him with slogans like: â€œDonâ€™t you think that Teddy is one Kennedy too many?â€ and â€œThe office of United States senator should be merited, and not inherited.â€
Then there was his devastating one-liner during their first debate, when McCormack turned to the Squire of Hyannisport and observed that if his name was Edward Moore, instead of Edward Moore Kennedy, your candidacy â€œwould be a joke.â€ When it comes to Kennedys, Massachusetts voters donâ€™t have much of a sense of humor.
In Washington, Ted lost little time getting in the swing of the Great Society. He was the principal sponsor the 1965 Immigration Act. Standing on the Senate floor, Kennedy insisted: â€œThis bill we sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not restructure the shape of our daily lives.â€ And a bear doesnâ€™t you-know in the woods.
By creating a family-preference system which led to chain-migration, Kennedy took us from 300,000 legal immigrants a year in the 1960s to one million-plus today. In 2007, he championed McCain-Kennedy, which would have amnestied 12 million to 15 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Ted wanted to do for health care what he did for immigration. Nancy Pelosi says we should nationalize one-fifth of our economy as a memorial to the late Senator, who had the best medical care inherited money could buy (including the latest advances in brain surgery) during his final illness.
Besides, Teddy already has a monument: the national debt â€“ which grew from $305 billion during his first year in office to $11.4 trillion today.
From immigration â€œreformâ€ in 1965, fast-forward four years to Kennedyâ€™s personal bridge-too-far. It was a typical Kennedy bash on Chappaquiddick Island the evening of July 19, 1969 â€“ mostly married men, six single women and copious quantities of social lubricants.
It took the late-lamented 10 hours to tell police that heâ€™d left Mary Jo Kopechne in a submerged vehicle, while he huddled with advisors to smooth the rough edges of his story and get the alcohol out of his bloodstream.
In a plea for sympathy, Kennedy described his actions that evening as â€œindefensible.â€
They were also cowardly and criminally negligent. A diver said that there was an air bubble in the back seat. Mary Jo, who died 40 years and 5 weeks ago, could have lived if sheâ€™d been reached in the first hour. A conservative columnist used to end every commentary on Tedâ€™s latest ravings with, â€œMary Jo Kopechne was unavailable for comment.â€
Booze, women and frat-boy exuberance were always a lethal combination for Kennedy.
On March 29, 1991, Easter weekend, in what passes for an act of devotion in the Kennedy clan, the Senator woke up his son Patrick and nephew William Kennedy Smith around midnight to go out drinking with him at a watering hole called Au Bar.
As Edward Klein describes the incident in â€œThe Kennedy Curseâ€: â€œThe Kennedys behaved as though they were invulnerable and had nothing to fear. Palm Beach was their seraglio, a place of licentious pleasure.â€ Another Kennedy "seraglio" was the Senator's private room at the trendy D.C. restaurant La Brasserie, where the friend of working folks is alleged to have sexually assaulted a waitress in 1985.
Klein speculates, â€œPerhaps (Ted) was hoping that his young son and nephew could help a drunken, grossly overweight, middle-aged man get lucky that night.â€
Son and nephew picked up girls, and brought them back to the Kennedy compound. Patty Bowman, â€œWillyâ€™sâ€ companion, claimed he did to her what the Senator spent four decades doing to the Constitution. Ted claimed he never heard cries for help from the beach â€“ perhaps because he was spying on Patrick and his companion, who were making out in the latterâ€™s bedroom.
Michele Cassone, Patrickâ€™s date, reported that when Kennedy later made a celebrity appearance: â€œHe only had on a button-down Oxford shirt. He had taken his slacks off. I didnâ€™t see if he had any Jockeys or boxers on â€¦ . He was standing there wobbling and had no pants on. â€¦ And I was just really freaked out.â€ At trial, Willy was acquitted of rape. The Senator tried to refurbish his image by marrying a woman 22 years his junior.
Tedâ€™s first wife gave him a divorce, after his frequent philandering drove her to drink.
I had only one encounter with Saint Ted. (He will be canonized shortly.) A few years ago, I was getting on the D.C.-Boston shuttle. Walking through first-class, I spotted the paragon sitting next to a middle-aged woman.
He asked his seat-mate if she would, â€œah,â€ mind switching seats with an attractive, young woman across the aisle â€“ his â€œassistant,â€ he said. Just goes to show, you canâ€™t teach an old slam-hound new tricks.
The most commonly heard encomium is that Kennedy was a paladin of the poor â€“ so much so that he spared no effort to create an economy and tax system to ensure a growing supply of them. Whenever he succeeded in raising the minimum wage, minority teen unemployment went up.
Itâ€™s surprising that Ted never cut up the Kennedy compounds in Palm Beach and Hyannis to create low-income housing. In fact, thereâ€™s no evidence that Kennedy ever altered his lavish lifestyle one iota â€“ like selling a life-preserver on one of his sailboats -- to help the poor.
Famed for his wit and eloquence, Kennedy was adept at reading speeches, others had written, off a teleprompter. Howie Carr, a Boston talk-radio host, had a long-running â€œWizard of Ahsâ€ contest. Callers had to guess the number of times the Senator said â€œahâ€ in 10-second sound bytes.
But Kennedyâ€™s life was redeemed at the end. Since, under Massachusetts law, his replacement must be chosen in a special election, the Democrats will not have the 60 votes to cut off debate in the Senate for a few months.
Don Feder is a former Boston Herald writer who is now a political/communications consultant. He also maintains his own website, DonFeder.com.