A life of great privilege with few consequences
Ted Kennedy was a deeply flawed man who got away with much because he was a member of the lucky genes club and because he was a liberal. Being a liberal means you are rarely held to account for your hypocrisy.
WHILE offering condolences to the Kennedy family at this sad moment, it's important to note that Ted Kennedy's life was not as simple or heroic as is now being portrayed.
On the cable channels yesterday, his fellow Senate graybeards were lamenting the passing of what was invariably described as Kennedy's "collegial" Senate, where voices were seldom raised and partisan bickering ended when the gavel came down to end the session.
All of which would have come as a surprise to Robert Bork, the Supreme Court nominee of whom the collegial Ted said in 1986:
"Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters . . ."
So much for collegiality.
Of course, Kennedy is now endlessly lauded for his support of "women's rights," i.e., abortion. But into the 1970s, before the Roman Catholic Church's influence began to wane, he was a traditional, pro-life New England Democrat.
Here was his take on abortion in 1971: "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."
There's a story, perhaps apocryphal, that in his first Senate campaign in 1962, Kennedy was shaking hands at a factory gate during a shift change. A haggard worker began berating him about how he'd never worked a day in his life.
As the legend had it, at that point another salt-of-the-earth blue-collar type leaned in and told Kennedy, "Never worked a day in your life, kid? You ain't missed a thing."
But in fact he had. Yesterday, the tributes kept mentioning his commitment to the "working class." He fought for, as President Obama said (on Martha's Vineyard, of all places), "an America that is more equal and more just."
But more equal and more just for some people than for others. When it came to the white-ethnic working class from which his father came, Kennedy just plain didn't get it. Whether it was court-ordered busing in Boston in the '70s, or the affirmative-action policies that stymied the careers of so many of his family's traditional voters, Kennedy never grasped the depth of the blue-collar frustration as he veered left.
Chappaquiddick, of course, never went away. But sometimes, Kennedy could seem oblivious even to that ultimate blemish on his career. In 1974, when President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for his Watergate crimes, Kennedy issued this thundering statement:
"Do we operate under a system of equal justice under law? Or is there one system for the average citizen, and another for the high and mighty?"
On issue after issue, he was wrong -- the nuclear freeze, the Reagan tax cuts, the Immigration Reform Act of 1965, which he assured his Senate colleagues would not lead to a "flood" of immigrants into America's cities.
While he was portrayed as articulate, that was only because he had good speech writers. On his own he could become incoherent. He was not particularly smart or honest as his expulsion from Harvard demonstrated. Being a liberal and being wrong on most of the major issues of our time is something he got away with until his demise.
He was apparently a fun guy to be around and well liked by those in his club, but he is not someone you should depend on for a ride home. He was a guy who was still going to Florida for Spring break until late in his life, while the working class still worked.
He was gaming the system until the very end and maybe beyond the grave with the selection of his successor.