Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Even In Death, Teddy Kennedy Can't Shake Off Chappaquiddick

US Senator Edward "Teddy" Kennedy has died. The long-time Democrat lawmaker and brother of the late President John F Kennedy, as well as Robert F Kennedy, was 77, and had been suffering from brain cancer.

When a politician dies, it's customary for fulsome tributes to be paid as even bitter political opponents find pleasant things to say about their late rival. And Teddy Kennedy is no different. Plenty of Republicans, with whom he fought bitterly in Congress for decades, have been praising his record of achievement and long service. He's even been described as an "effective lawmaker," although given that we're talking about the US Congress, I suppose everything is relative.

The reason why the tributes to Kennedy are focusing on his legislative record, is because he never became President. He thought about running in 1972, but didn't. Then he finally did run in 1980, but lost his party's primary election to Jimmy Carter. The main reason for both of those failures is the so-called Chappaquiddick incident.

The facts of the incident are still not entirely clear. But we do know that Kennedy crashed his car into water one night in 1969 and then left the scene of the accident. His passenger, campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne, was later found dead under the wreckage. Kennedy was given a suspended sentence for leaving the scene, but nothing more, amid claims he was given special treatment because of his surname.

The scandal prevented Kennedy from running for the presidency in 1972, and questions about it badly damaged his attempt eight years later, which meant that he had to concentrate on making laws in the US Senate to try to re-establish his reputation. He was successful up to a point, but Chappaquiddick has followed him to the grave. Kopechne's name became a trending topic on Twitter today, as right-wing bloggers and other Kennedy-haters brought it all up again. Usually when politicians have made mistakes in their personal lives, they are forgotten about when it comes to giving the eulogies. But in this case, it's right that Kennedy should not be allowed to escape Chappaquiddick. Regardless of his years of service to the US, it remains unforgivable.

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