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August 31, 2009

The Legacy of Sen. Ted Kennedy

Kevin E. Dayhoff

The sad death of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy last week brought with it a wave of sadness about the tumultuous events of the last four decades in our country.


Senator Kennedy, the liberal lion, was a much-fabled icon of the left. As the news of his passing spread, it set off a torrential firestorm of sympathetic news coverage, if not revisionist history.


His death has caused many conservatives to have complicated feelings.


Most decent conservatives, still hurting from the left’s vile, sordid and disrespectful celebration of the death of Tony Snow, Jesse Helms, and Ronald Reagan, anguished to chart a respectful approach.


Responsible people who very much disagreed with Senator Kennedy’s politics and personal comportment, reverentially focused on his life’s work, all the while walking a fine, careful and painful line to be sure to keep his perceived public accomplishments in the proper context with his personal failings.


For others, saying nothing was not an option when you don't have anything nice to say.


The curious thing is that the media glorifies Senator Kennedy for his verbal diatribes as a positive attribute for remaining true to his convictions and heroically speaking his mind.


Yet, if a conservative dares to utter criticism of such a sacred icon, they are damned an unintelligent knuckle-dragging Neanderthal.


It is easily agreed that Senator Kennedy was a complicated man. Who isn’t? But this is the time to celebrate his life’s work – and a great nation that facilitates such sharp differences of opinion.


Even for those who did not share his passion for social welfare, democratic government can appreciate his tireless work for social issues, civil rights, and the plight of those less fortunate.


The rub was the pathway conflict. There are those who differed with the extreme left as to how to get “there.”


His ability to persevere and overcome personal and family tragedy, both self-inflicted by his own Shakespearean personality flaws, and those senselessly inflicted by pointless violence – is to be greatly admired and emulated.


Gandhi once said, “I look only to the good qualities of men. Not being faultless myself, I won’t presume to probe into the faults of others.”


My shriveled, yet functional, sense of decency readily agrees that it is only appropriate to dwell on all the good qualities of Senator Kennedy at this point in time.


Nevertheless, for those far too young to remember, The Washington Post reflected upon the Chappaquiddick tragedy on July 18, 1969, in a recent article:


Senator Kennedy “attended a small get-together … on Chappaquiddick….  Late that night, the car he was driving ran off a narrow wooden bridge and plunged into a tidal pool. His only passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne… drowned.


“Kennedy, who failed to report the incident to police for about nine hours, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene of an accident. He received a two-month suspended sentence...”


Certainly Senator Kennedy’s power, family money, and privileged-class status bought him a pass for that ethical and tragic lapse; however, it certainly cannot be suggested that the nation and society as a whole ever forgave him. He paid an enormous price for it.


It was a terrible accident. It was made far worse by Senator Kennedy’s response. I cannot judge him – that is only the purview of God.


However, what I will never forget is the legacy of Senator Kennedy’s behavior in the “Judge Robert Bork” incident.


Accurate history will reflect that it was Senator Kennedy who redefined Article Two of the United States Constitution and created the verb to “Bork” a judicial nomination by the president.


It remains Senator Kennedy’s legacy that the “advice and consent of the Senate” now includes preventing an otherwise well-qualified candidate from being confirmed by assassinating their character.


If you will recall, in 1987 President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Bork to serve as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of The United States. The U.S. Senate ultimately rejected his nomination, in part as a result of the nationally televised ruthless character assassination executed by Senator Kennedy.


In a July 5, 1987, New York Times article by James Reston, "WASHINGTON: Kennedy And Bork,” Mr. Reston introduced the incident by writing that Senator Kennedy “is urging the Democratic majority in the Senate to mount a major ideological attack on President Reagan's nomination of Robert H. Bork… But if they're wise they won't follow him down this stormy path…”


The “president had every right to choose a candidate of his own persuasion, Mr. Kennedy has the same ideological right to oppose him, but the Senator has stated his case in such vehement terms that he's scaring the Democrats more than the Republicans.”


Mr. Reston is referring to what Senator Kennedy said on July 1, 1987, 45 minutes after Judge Bork was nominated:


“Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.”


Chappaquiddick was a terrible accident; however Senator Kennedy’s cold character assassination of Judge Bork was calculated and planned.


The “Bork” incident is not one of the reasons that I respect the life and legacy of Senator Kennedy. Certainly none of us wish to have our lives defined by our most unfortunate, ill tempered and ill-considered remarks; however, it would take a wooden stake and several medieval curses for me to forget it at a time like this.


Does the entirety of Senator Kennedy’s contributions to our nation deserve honor and respect? You bet. May we also remember his legacies. May he rest in peace.


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at kevindayhoff@


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