In considering the life of the late Edward Moore Kennedy, I kept coming back to the same thought. Namely, I can think of no politician other than Bill Clinton who could inspire more pathological rage in some quarters than Ted Kennedy. Sure there are lots of people that are riled up at Barack Obama. But it's early in the game for his Presidency. And I think most folks are willing to be patient with him seeing as how he inherited an ungodly mess from his predecessor.
One of the regular commentators on my Facebook page is a conservative physician who has no use for the Kennedys. She recently allowed as how she was disgusted that "the left" (as she put it) romanticized Kennedy's life here in the last week without sufficient regard for the messy personal life of his early years.
OK. Fair enough. Let's compare and contrast the public record of both Kennedy and, say, George W. Bush.
Kennedy was born into wealth and privilege. Ditto W. Kennedy went to Harvard where he was kicked out for cheating on a test. W went to Yale where by all accounts he was an indifferent student at best. Kennedy served two years in the Army at a NATO post in France arranged by his father. W's dad got him into the Air National Guard during Viet Nam. W got an MBA from Harvard. Kennedy got a JD from Virginia.
Kennedy got elected to the Senate at 30. W lost his first race for Congress. Kennedy stayed put in the Senate until his death. W was a nominal partner in an oil and gas company in Midland, Texas where he met his future wife.
W wrecked a car while driving drunk. Ted killed somebody doing the same. W quit drinking. Kennedy struggled with it off and on. His first wife Joan entered rehab. They ultimately divorced. W and Laura are still married.
W ran a the Texas Rangers where they passed on a guy named Sammy Sosa. In retrospect this was a good move. W ultimately got elected Governor of Texas. Kennedy decided to unseat Jimmy Carter. He lost when he really couldn't articulate why he was doing it " I fucking hate Jimmy Carter" being no good reason to run for President.
Kennedy returned to the Senate where he became known as a master of bipartisan compromise despite his liberal credentials. He met Victoria Reggie (who was a year ahead of me at Tulane. No kidding.) and they married thus ending the fractious personal life that was his undoing despite his achievements in the Senate. Kennedy is said to have become more devout in his Catholicism. W remains a devout Christian and nominal Methodist with evangelical leanings.
W stole the Presidential election in 2000 although he was aided mightily by the Democrats failure to carry Arkansas or Tennessee which would have put them safely over the top. Kennedy tells Esquire magazine about this that he can work with anybody. This horrifies liberals. W presides over a completely partisan White House, starts one unnecessary war based upon, shall we say, dubious intelligence, erases the balanced budget of the Clinton years, and ignites the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression due to his Administration's failure to adequately regulate the financial system.
The point? Ted Kennedy and George Bush have more in common than either their supporters or detractors would admit. Kennedy's reputation for boozing and womanizing was legendary and exposed him to charges of being a hypocrite and a phony. A friend and I were talking the other day and agreed that Ted Kennedy should have thanked his lucky stars that the Internet and cell phone cameras weren't around during much of his adult life. There is no way he could have survived digital technology in his younger and wilder days.
And yet. I predict that history will judge one of these men with kindness.
Want to guess which one?