Kennedy and Redemption


1. In History's Wake
2. Failure, Redemption, and Forgiveness
3. What He Did

1. In History's Wake

The Irish wake challenges death's dominion through expressions of pure grief and the tradition of telling stories that reflect the complexity of the deceased. No hollow words of praise, please.Give us the measure of the real man. Ted Kennedy understood this. The most Irish of his clan, he famously stayed up drinking through the Thanksgiving weekend following the assassination telling raw stories about his brother Jack.

A little truth-telling would have been welcome in respect of the discussion of Ted Kennedy's own legacy. While his colleagues and party members rush to proclaim his greatness, history will be less willing to look away from his weaknesses and shortcomings.In no sense did the Senator ever pay his dues or demonstrate true remorse in relation the death of Mary Jo Kopechne and his conduct afterward. And, instead of learning from his errors, for the next 20 years he lived the life of a privileged, aging, playboy and demonstrated shockingly poor judgment while serving without real distinction as a Senator whose seat had been won and maintained through nepotism, wealth and shamelessness.

There was, I admit, some movement toward redemption in his later years. For this I praise him. His legislative work was, in the end, impressive. But, in the rush to beatify him as the “lion of the senate” and an icon of the left, the glory of this work and these years has been oversold. The judgment of history will not, I think, be so kind. Ted Kennedy will be – and should be - better remembered for the promise he selfishly squandered and the limitations of his character and not for his contributions to American public life. - Beta.

2. Failure, Redemption, and Forgiveness

In Joseph Conrad's famous novel Lord Jim the first mate of the tramp steamer Patna, in a moment of moral weakness and perhaps cowardice, abandons his ship in a storm and leaves the hundreds of passengers on board to their fate. They survive to tell the tale, and Jim is stripped of his qualifications in a public hearing. He spends the rest of his life trying to both escape his past, and to do good in a relentless quest to achieve some form of redemption. And he does, perhaps achieving more in the end than he might have done had he had a long and successful career as as ship's officer.

One of the morals of Lord Jim is that our character will reveal itself in moments of crisis and emergency. This was a favourite theme of Hemingway's as well. That we can never actually know how we will respond when the chips are down, whether we will rise to the occasion, or like Jim bail out to our ever-lasting shame. But the second moral of Lord Jim, much like that of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, is that even such people whose character flaws manifest themselves in that moment of truth, can go on to do great good and so redeem themselves.

That Ted Kennedy failed in his Lord Jim moment, there can be little doubt. And we all would like to think that we would have done better in the circumstances of that moment than he did - but the whole point is that we can never know. We can judge him for his failure, but we ought not to allow that judgment to extend to encompass his entire life. For the measure of the man ought not to be limited to his one failure when the chips are down. It is also, and perhaps even more importantly, in his attempts to do good thereafter in his effort to make amends.

As in so many things, there is complexity and nuance here. Kennedy demonstrated flaws not only in his Lord Jim moment, but in his struggle with alcohol, his weakness for carousing, perhaps even in an early sense of privilege and entitlement. But that was balanced against the good that he did, and the nobleness that he managed to achieve in the doing of it.

By all accounts, Ted Kennedy achieved great things as a senator, not for his own career, but genuinely for the good of the disadvantaged, the poor, the marginalized, the minorities and the downtrodden in American society. Like Jim, he seems to have been driven to do so in a relentless drive for redemption. In the context of the Kennedy promise, it may appear that he squandered his opportunities, but who knows? He may have become a better man, and done more good as a Jim-like senator, than he ever would have achieved if he had never faced and failed his Lord Jim moment.

If the American media went too far in focusing on the good, my friend has surely gone too far in emphasizing the flaws and failings of the man. The narrative here is of a complicated man, one who failed, more than once, but who ultimately achieved great things in doing good for so many. It is in the end a story of redemption. And that surely deserves some measure of forgiveness.
- Gamma.

3.- What He Did

I think most of us know exactly what we would do: we would call for help. But, while a young woman was trapped in his car, underwater, desperately trying to stay alive, Ted Kennedy did not call for help. He left. He abandoned her, obviously more concerned with the political consequences of the night.

The Lord Jim moment, as you characterize it, is a great literary device but it lacks bite in the real world. The issue is not that Ted Kennedy failed to live up to some mythic, unreachable ideal of heroism. This was not an abstract sin of omission. It was the direct commission of an act that was - and is - deeply, deeply troubling. It was a cold, rational, criminal act.

True redemption don't come cheap, however, it is a possibility for even the worst of us. But it did not come to Ted Kennedy. If it had, we would have seen it in his actions after the accident. He probably would have resigned and devoted his considerable energy and resources to some good cause. But we did not see anything like that. Instead, what we saw for the next twenty-years was Kennedy alternating between self-serving tilting at political windmills and shallow hedonism. It was, according to the lore, his second marriage and his inevitable aging, and not reflections on his culpability, that motivated him to become an effective Senator.

As for his work on behalf of the disadvantaged, the downtrodden, the hungry, the tired, the wretched, the untouchable and the hard-working honest people of the United States America... I wonder if you have not bought the bill of goods that the American left is selling in their rush to deification. They want heroes. They need a glorious tradition. And, for the moment, they are ascendant in the political firmament.

But, as I suggested at the beginning of this post, history is not so easily fooled. It will look upon Ted Kennedy in less gauzy, sepia-toned light and it will ask questions of the morality of the political culture that glossed over the immorality of the man who left Mary Jo Kopechne for dead on July 19, 1969. - Beta.



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