Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pop goes the weasel

They say you are not supposed to speak ill of the dead. They usually say that when the dead person has a lot of dirty laundry that just never got washed.

The late Senator Edward Kennedy ought never to have been in political life after the night of July 18, 1969. That was the night of the infamous “Chappaquiddick incident”, as it has become known.

Funny word, “incident”.

For Mary Jo Kopeckne and her family it was the Chappaquiddick tragedy. But, for Ted Kennedy it really was just an incident. She lies in a grave and he went on to fame, a long life and the enjoyment of his considerable family fortune. In fact, for Kennedy the real problem was that the “ghost of Chappaquiddick” prevented him from gaining the highest office in the land.

The American novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald once commented to his fellow American novelist, Ernest Hemingway that, “The rich are very different.” Hemingway replied, “Yes. They have more money.”

Fitzgerald was right and he immortalized that difference in his novel, The Great Gatsby. What we saw were wealthy characters, steeped in their own pleasure, and indifferent to the pain and suffering they inflicted on others.

That is always how I have viewed Ted Kennedy, through an F. Scott Fitzgerald filter.

We know from his history that he was a boozer and a womanizer. Was his nature and were his inclinations any different on July 18, 1969? Does it seem reasonable with his record that they would be?

There have been a number of eulogies about Senator Kennedy, but I haven’t seen a recent compilation of the story of Chappaquiddick. So I am going to give one.

At the time of her death, Mary Jo Kopechne was 28 years of age and single. Ted Kennedy was 37 and married. She and Kennedy were attending a party on Chappaquiddick Island. Kopechne was staying in a hotel on the mainland.

At 11:15 p.m. Kennedy offered to drive her back to her hotel. He took a road called Dyke Road that led to a one-lane bridge and his car went off the bridge into the water. The car was sitting on the bottom, upside down. Three windows were smashed. Kennedy, who was six feet, two inches tall, escaped from the car. Kopechne, who was five feet, two inches tall, did not.

The water was not very deep, approximately seven feet. Kennedy claimed he couldn’t remember how he got out of the car, but he did remember diving several times to free Kopechne without success. He then walked back to the party. Sometime after midnight, he enlisted the aid of two cousins to go back to the scene to get Kopechne. They were unsuccessful.

Since the ferry was then shut down, Kennedy said he decided to swim back to the mainland – not an easy swim because of tides and currents. The next day, he reported the mishap to the police. However, by this time the police had already recovered Kopechne’s body.

Here is the dirty laundry list:

1. Why did Kennedy drive down Dyke Road.? It was going in the opposite direction to where he was supposed to be going

2. Why did Kennedy claim his problem was that he was unfamiliar with the road? He had quite good knowledge of Chappaquiddick and had passed over the road twice before that very day.

3. Police estimated he was doing about 55 kilometers an hour when he approached the bridge and jammed on his brakes 5 meters from the bridge, which effectively locked his brakes and caused his loss of control. Why was he doing an unsafe speed? He had no explanation.

4. Why did Kennedy walk back to the party instead of seeking assistance from an island resident who lived only 135 meters from the bridge?

5. Kennedy was reported as being relaxed and even jovial the following day. He took the ferry back to Chappaquiddick with his two cousins and then reported the accident by telephone. Unexplained behaviour.

6. The coroner said the death was by drowning, but the undertaker said it was by suffocation. The police diver who recovered the body said it was too buoyant to be full of water.

7. Unfortunately, Kopechne’s family (she was an only child) did not give permission for an autopsy, apparently afraid the autopsy would disclose that she was pregnant. In 1969, it was still socially scandalous to have a daughter who was pregnant without being married, even if she was well into her adulthood. So we are not sure what she died from.

8. Kennedy informed Kopechne’s parents of her demise, but did not tell them he was driving.

9. It was also unusual since Kennedy normally had his chauffeur drive (no doubt because of his drinking), but on this occasion took the keys from the chauffeur.

10. Kennedy claimed that he had consumed no more than a quarter of a glass of beer, but other evidence was offered that suggested he had been drinking rum and cokes well before the start of the party.

When Kennedy finally made a public address about the matter a few days later he offered this slimy version:

There is no truth, no truth whatsoever, to the widely-circulated suspicions of immoral conduct that have been levelled at my behaviour and hers regarding that evening. There has never been a private relationship between us of any kind. I know of nothing in Mary Jo's conduct on that or any other occasion - the same is true of the other girls at that party - that would lend any substance to such ugly speculation about their character. Nor was I driving under the influence of liquor.

In short, how dare anyone accuse Miss Kopechne of immoral conduct -- I would never be in the company of a woman of low moral virtue!

Most of his tributes have called him “the lion” of the Senate. But in July, 1969, he was definitely a weasel. This behaviour disqualified him from the presidency, but apparently is acceptable conduct for a U.S. senator since he continued to be re-elected quite easily for the next 40 years.

I also completely discount all this bullshit about what a great liberal senator he was and how he will be missed in that role. Politics is like nature, it abhors a vacuum. And if Kennedy hadn't been there to occupy the liberal space, some other senator, probably a better representative, surely would have.

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