It is a good thing Ted Kennedy is Irish Catholic. He is going to heaven. That’s how it works. No matter what kind of sham your life is, what type of negligent homicide you’re guilty of, scores of hypocrisy you’ve dabbled in, and the fraudulent legacy you leave behind, the slate is clean. They bring a priest in, throw some incense on you and you’re fast-tracked to the pearly gates. And if there’s something akin to the heaven the Kennedy’s believe in, then Mary Jo Kopechne will be waiting there to greet him; the beautiful, young Boiler Room Girl with bouncy blonde locks and a dazzling New England smile standing across from the ravaged, wrinkled, cancer-ridden shell of the man who left her to drown in a dark inlet at Chappaquiddick 40 years ago.
And if there is a God, she will kick him squarely in the testicles. Twice.
It is a heartwarming story worthy of Revelation; the part of the Holy Bible where it all comes to pass – the shit rain, the seven-headed beasts, bottomless chasms, and the torture of the unrepentant. Humanity, in a phrase, is “kicked in the testicles”. Twice.
It is a book Ted Kennedy knew well. Every Kennedy knew Revelation backwards and forwards. Mother Rose insisted on it. She made them read it aloud every night before cookies and milk, later admitting it was a veiled attempt to wipe away the terrible iniquities of her husband, the racist bootlegger, who after visiting 1930s’ Germany framed the Jewish slaughter in Europe this way: “They brought it on themselves.” Later, the patriarch became a master at fixing elections, buying off laws, and hosting Senator Joseph McCarthy and his loving family up at Martha’s Vineyard for weekend détentes on how to “strip Commie Jew bastards of their rights”.
But despite the insanity of their parents and the ill-gotten fortune they would exploit to power, three of the four Kennedy boys became victims; the eldest, Joseph Jr. in World War II, and Jack and Robert to assassins’ bullets two decades later. Not baby boy Ted. He was a survivor. He was the one Kennedy that understood the lessons of Revelation. The Big Bad Senator had to look out for Number One. And this philosophy served him well for 47 years of public service.
Edward M. Kennedy was the genetic run-off of America’s Royal Family; a boorish toad of a man with the scruples of a desperate crack addict and the brains of a dung beetle. Everything he stood for or achieved was bought for him, handed down from the crimes of greater men and far more accomplished cretins. He was a failure and a geek and caused so much family embarrassment he was repeatedly sent on beer runs during the famous shirtless Kennedy football games. He was booted from Harvard as a dumb ass jock and stumbled into the Senate in a cesspool’s sludge of nepotism.
His professional career consisted of manic bluster on inconsistent drivel, including flip-flopping on abortion whenever it benefited him. He personally screwed two Democratic presidential candidates by stringing the party along like a coquettish debutante; leaving the doomed George McGovern to choose a shock-treatment patient for vice president during a cantankerous convention the Kennedy Camp ignited. Four years later, Kennedy blew his best chance at the White House when his shameless behavior of six years earlier – leaving a girl to die on a drunken night of lunacy with his pregnant wife convalescing at home – forced him to back out. Four years hence, he and his cronies haunted the weakened incumbent in a nasty primary race, all-but sealing the fate of an embattled Jimmy Carter. Minutes before the death rattle, Kennedy ignored party diplomacy and snubbed the president on the convention stage, symbolically hoarding his delegates and creating what later would become the Reagan Democrats.
Kennedy wasn’t even a decent drunk; surpassed by his first wife, Virginia Joan Bennett’s Herculean consumption of barbiturates and vodka. Mrs. Kennedy’s lasting comment on living with Teddy was she eventually had to check into several rehab stints after trying to drive her car off a cliff in a botched escape scheme. But escape she did in 1978, separating from Kennedy, but inconceivably remaining married to aid his botched1980 presidential run before divorcing him outright the next year.
Even from the grave Teddy remains a survivor. Just this week, on his deathbed, Kennedy lobbied to strike a 2004 law he championed to let the naming of his successor fall into the hands of the governor rather than the previous law, which handed it over to a special election, a process that could drag on for months and leave a crucial Democratic seat open for the eventual vote on Health Care Reform; his lifelong political objective.
It was a seamy, partisan, almost mean-spirited move, but summed up what Ted Kennedy, like any servable political survivor excels at. And no one clinging to this ragged democracy should begrudge him. Ted’s problem was that he could never keep his mouth shut when the other side pulled the same treacherous chicanery. He flew into a rage upon the pardoning of Richard Nixon in 1974, only four years after his Chappaquiddick fiasco, mustering the gall to comment, “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?”
Kennedy’s spectacular exercise in hypocrisy was also on display during his vocal attacks on Supreme Court nominees Robert Bork in 1986 and Clarence Thomas in 1991, the latter of which he had to slink away due to its “sexual harassment” theme, something the Kennedy boys, and most assuredly Teddy Boy turned into an art form. In fact, only weeks before the hearings, the senator’s nephew, William Kennedy Smith was arrested on rape charges, allegedly meeting the victim at a bar with his soused uncle.
I am proud to say in the wake of his passing, having thrown words down for public consumption over 20 years and in this space for a dozen now, I have never, ever written a single positive thing about Ted Kennedy.
He was no Jesse Helms.
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art and Trailing Jesus. Reality Check archives can be read at jamescampion.com.