Too bad you had bad experiences.
But, when an entire nation — or, at any rate, its "mainstream" media culture — declines to speak the truth about the dead, we are certainly entitled to speak ill of such false eulogists.
In its coverage of Sen. Kennedy's passing, America's TV networks are creepily reminiscent of those plays Sam Shepard used to write about some dysfunctional inbred hardscrabble Appalachian household where there's a baby buried in the backyard but everyone agreed years ago never to mention it.
In this case, the unmentionable corpse is Mary Jo Kopechne, If you have to bring up the, ah, circumstances of that year of decease, keep it general, keep it vague. As Kennedy flack Ted Sorensen put it in Time magazine: An "accident," "ugly" in some unspecified way, just happened to happen — and only to him, nobody else.
Ted's the star, and there's no room to namecheck the bit players. What befell him was a thing, a place. Moses had a temper. Kennedy had Chappaquiddick, a moment of tremendous moral collapse.
And if Moses having a temper never led him to leave some gal at the bottom of the Red Sea, well, let's face it, he doesn't have Ted's tremendous legislative legacy, does he? Perhaps it's kinder simply to airbrush out of the record the name of the unfortunate complicating factor on the receiving end of that moment of "tremendous moral collapse.
As Teddy's biographer Adam Clymer wrote, Edward Kennedy's "achievements as a senator have towered over his time, changing the lives of far more Americans than remember the name Mary Jo Kopechne. I don't know how many lives the senator changed — he certainly changed Mary Jo's — but you're struck less by the precise arithmetic than by the basic equation: How many changed lives justify leaving a human being struggling for breath for up to five hours pressed up against the window in a small, shrinking air pocket in Teddy's Oldsmobile?
If the senator had managed to change the lives of even more Americans, would it have been OK to leave a couple more broads down there? At the Huffington Post, Melissa Lafsky mused on what Mary Jo "would have thought about arguably being a catalyst for the most successful Senate career in history.
Who knows — maybe she'd feel it was worth it. We are all flawed, and most of us are weak, and in hellish moments, at a split-second's notice, confronting the choice that will define us ever after, many of us will fail the test.
Perhaps Mary Jo could have been saved; perhaps she would have died anyway. What is true is that Edward Kennedy made her death a certainty. When a man if you'll forgive the expression confronts the truth of what he has done, what does honor require? Six years before Chappaquiddick, in the wake of Britain's comparatively very minor "Profumo scandal," the eponymous John Profumo, Her Majesty's Secretary of State for War, resigned from the House of Commons and the Queen's Privy Council and disappeared amid the tenements of the East End to do good works washing dishes and helping with children's playgroups, in anonymity, for the last 40 years of his life.
With the exception of one newspaper article to mark the centenary of his charitable mission, he never uttered another word in public again.The Commonwealth Club of California is the nation's oldest and largest public affairs forum.
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