Don’t worry. This won’t be another eulogy, or even very much of a hit piece. Suffice to say that I never thought much of him or his family. Certainly, the media latched onto him and his older brothers, and they became the closest thing to royalty.
Teddy was a deeply flawed individual, but two things stand out: Chappaquiddick, and the trashing of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. Disagreements over judicial philosophy are one thing, but Kennedy went way over the top…
“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.”
“President Reagan is still our president. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.”
His behavior at the hearings for Clarence Thomas was not a whole lot better.
Some say that the kid glove treatment he got from the press was because of his liberal politics, but there are plenty of libs who would have been unable to survive such a dissolute life as Teddy’s. The media always seemed to act as if it had heavily—perhaps irretrievably—invested in the Kennedy mystique, and especially with the death of “Prince” JFK, Jr., Teddy was really it.
While television use had skyrocketed during the latter years of the Eisenhower administration, the Kennedy v. Nixon campaign would be the first to achieve major TV viewership. Although many, including Eisenhower himself, believed that the election was stolen, the media preferred the telegenic JFK to be their man, and zealously portrayed all sorts of fiction about him. Camelot was born!
Myth after myth would appear: From the “saluting” done by the very young JFK, Jr. at his father’s graveside, which was actually little more than clever editing, to the hagiographic coverage of First Lady Jackie’s speeches in Europe, whereby her pitiful pronunciation of French and other languages was described as sophisticated and charming, the fix was always in. And, it would be years before JFK’s philandering would be discussed in the mainstream media.
Bobby would be in the spotlight only briefly, so after 1968, the mantle was all Teddy’s.
The big issue here, though, is not the Kennedys. Rather, it is the spurious notion that someone can be a “great man” solely on the basis of public accomplishments, and with complete disregard to his personal life. Isn’t there something inherently wrong with trusting significant areas of public policy to a man who had serious issues in running his own life, or that of his family?
Moreover, what kind of leadership can be expected from a man who never bore any responsibility for his acts, and was always able to get by on the twin wings of his personal fortune and well-crafted and well-maintained public image? Is this not the Peter Principle writ large, whereby failure at the individual level somehow is irrelevant? Aren’t you tired of situations such as Timothy Geithner’s “little” tax oversights somehow meaning nothing for the man who will be the chief tax collector of the country?
Some will argue that the glorification of individuals whose personal lives are a travesty is nothing new, but we need not respect this precedent. The Church, in its wisdom, has rigorous standards for its saints. If we intend to create secular saints, miracles and a devil’s advocate might not be necessary, but surely there is room for basic decency and common sense.