causing an accident that puts human life at risk because you're drunk is horrible.
leaving a woman to die submerged in a locked car in 8 feet of water; going home to bed while she's still alive and calling the police only after her lifeless asphyxiated body is found? that is pure gothic horror.
I left the above comment on b1-66er's blog after he posted a text message from an exchange we had earlier in the day. He had poked me about Kennedy, assuming I’d be a Teddy defender, given my strong liberal biases. I texted back that I had almost tweeted an unkind remark when I heard the news at the ungodly hour of 3.30, while climbing out of bed to head to the airport (I didn’t mention that I refrained because I had no interest in enduring the firestorm it might set off). That remark was: “a lifetime of service & only one corpse. guess he finished ahead.”
Let me explain.
Do I think Ted Kennedy was a great man? I think he was a man of power and privilege who used that privilege to help others. On that he has my endorsement.
I also think he was keenly aware of his power and privilege -- which came to him as a result of his family name -- and used it to his own gain. It’s that factor that, in my opinion, means he’s a notch shy of greatness.
Kennedy was 36 when he drove his car off the road at Chappaquiddick, which means the decisions he made next can’t be ascribed to the foolish indiscretions of youth. He left a friend (a mistress?) to drown, trapped in his car, some say over hours, while he went home to sleep in his bed (how did he get there? I presume he walked, and all that distance home didn’t her silent scream haunt him? Didn’t it urge him to turn back, to find a phone, to call for help?).
He told the police he wasn’t drunk, which if true amplifies the horror of his decision to simply walk away. He was the only individual who had insight into the urgency of the situation -- she is trapped, she is drowning, she will die -- and he chose to ignore it.
I can’t quite get my arms around the thought process required to support that kind of action. Privilege is the only thing that makes sense out of it: the idea that this individual is exempt from core tenets that should govern us all; the indisputable notion that you don’t leave people to die when you can do something about it.
Once Kopechne's body was found by a fisherman Kennedy gave a statement to the police. He was convicted of leaving the scene of an accident and sentenced to two months probation.
Mary Jo Kopechne was buried.
Kennedy deployed that same bias later in life when he defended a nephew and a cousin -- one of whom was on trial for rape, another whom, in his own gothic tale, was convicted in 2002 for the murder of a woman in 1975 who was found buried under a tree on her parents’ property.
I don’t mean to disparage the dead. That Kennedy used his privilege to help the under served and the underprivileged during a life of public service makes good penance.
I think the Ted Kennedy story, and our lauding reaction to his death, with very little commentary or reflection upon a core incident that calls his character into question, says more about the American character than anything else.
We need our kings.