He was also a man who twisted the facts and sought to personally destroy people for his own political gain. Senator Kennedy did this most famously in 1987 when he gave this speech on the floor of the Senate in opposing Judge Robert Bork's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Senator Kennedy could have employed reasoned arguments in objecting to Judge Bork's nomination. He chose, instead, to attack the man in a very personal and offensive manner. And yet, the mainstream media claim that it is only those on the right who engage in "the politics of personal destruction."
Carl Cannon, writing for Politics Daily, has a very good column about the mainstream media and its selective memory of Kennedy's misbehavior with respect to Mary Jo Kopechne and in other incidents:
If you would like to read what other ordinary Americans think of Ted Kennedy specifically and the Kennedys generally, you can go to abcnews.com where they have requested reader
The idea that Edward M. Kennedy could be a viable national politician – let alone a much-admired and lionized political figure – has convinced millions of everyday citizens and succeeding generations of conservative activists that among the elites of academia, politics, and the media two standards of behavior exist: One for liberal Democrats and another for conservative Republicans. Along with sweeping changes in immigration law, soaring oratory, and strengthening the nation's social safety net, this reservoir of class resentment is also part of Kennedy's legacy.
Liberals in the media pretend not to see this. Or rather, they blame those who feel aggrieved. This very morning, my old friend James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly employed the usual euphemisms about Kennedy's behavior in his post – and then launched a preemptive strike against anyone who might view Teddy's life with gimlet eyes. "A flawed man, who started unimpressively in life -- the college problems, the silver-spoon boy senator, everything involved with Chappaquiddick -- but redeemed himself, in the eyes of all but the committed haters, with his bravery and perseverance and commitment to the long haul," Fallows wrote.
I like Jim Fallows, and stand in awe of Kennedy's effectiveness as a politician myself. But hold on a minute: The "college problems" were serial cheating. The "silver-spoon" stuff, I suppose refers to, among other things, the speeding and reckless driving that ominously foreshadowed Chappaquiddick. And that phrase "redeeming himself in the eyes of all but the committed haters," well, the problem with that is that to many people, redemption implies that a sinner has come clean.
Not reporting a fatal traffic accident is a felony in most places. On Martha's Vineyard, if the driver is a Kennedy, it's not even a matter of official curiosity: The local police chief never even asked Kennedy why he waited nine hours to report what had happened. The state of Massachusetts, citing Kennedy's excessive speed on the bridge, suspended his license for six months. That was it.
In protesting Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, Kennedy thundered, "Is there one system of justice for the average citizen and another system for the high and mighty?" These words, uttered five years after Chappaquiddick, are ubiquitous on conservative websites where they are offered up as evidence, not only of Kennedy's hypocrisy, but the mainstream media's as well.
Similarly, to movement conservatives, Kennedy's attack on Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork is offered up as a case study in the press's historic double standard. Immediately after Bork's July 1, 1987, nomination, Kennedy took to the Senate floor.
"Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions," he said. "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 could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is -- and is often the only -- protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy...."
It is an article of faith among conservatives that if a Republican senator had launched an attack this personal and vitriolic – not to mention wildly exaggerated – against a nominee named by a Democratic president that liberals would have gone ape and that the ladies and gentlemen of the Fourth Estate would have made the intemperate conduct of the Republican senator the main issue. The point is that Ted Kennedy surely earned the accolades he is receiving today. He also earned the disapproval he is receiving among Americans who saw him only from a distance, who judged him by his words and deeds, and found him wanting.
Update: Uhh, after reading this from Mark Hemingway at National Review, I may try to revise my headline to make it more offensive. It's a partial transcription of former Newsweek foreign editor and Time editor-in-chief Ed Klein discussing Senator Kennedy on The Diane Rehm Show:
I don't know if you know this or not, but one of his favorite topics of humor was indeed Chappaquiddick itself. And he would ask people, "have you heard any new jokes about Chappaquiddick?" That is just the most amazing thing. It's not that he didn't feel remorse about the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, but that he still always saw the other side of everything and the ridiculous side of things.
Okay, I hate to sound like the "fun police," but there is no "ridiculous side" to killing someone. And that Mr. Kennedy apparently did not appreciate this fact speaks volumes. Here is a link to where you can find the audio; the relevant portion is at 30:15. It is pretty stunning.