Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Can we please put Ted to Bed?

Reading all the hoopla about the latest Ted Kennedy revelations remind me of a drinking game ... you know, you're watching a football game on TV, and the next time John Madden says "Boom" everybody has to knock down a shot.

Well, every time Teddy's name gets in the paper -- and we're going on a year since he died -- we all have to down a shot. And if we were playing that game yesterday, they would be a lot of drunken people walking around today in a total stupor.

The Kennedy name still sells ... long after there are any Kennedys worth buying.

The FBI has released secret files concerning Ted Kennedy, and let's just say that to anyone who followed his career (which is to say most anyone with a pulse) what's in them isn't exactly startling news.

Let's see. He faced death threats. Well, duh! Of course he did. Both his brothers were killed. Why would it be such a shock for people to hear that there were plenty of nuts out there -- including, apparently, Sirhan Sirhan himself -- who wanted to complete the troika?

Then, apparently, Teddy and Bobby were involved in some wild sex parties in New York, and that Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Marilyn Monroe were also involved.

It's no big secret that Teddy got around. It's no big secret that all the Kennedy men -- and maybe even a few of the women, too (my conjecture only) -- got around. Look at the wonderful example they had. Old Joe got around too.

Infidelity was a Kennedy family trait. If I wanted to get all psychological about it, I'd even go as far as to say it's least surprising to hear Bobby did. After all, he pined for his father's acceptance probably more than anyone else in the family, spending as much time as he did lost in the shuffle of being smack dab in the middle of a nine-children litter. How better to do that than to have a zillion kids (OK, 11) and still have time for extracurricular activity? The old man must have been so proud?

The FBI also knew, right away, that Teddy was involved in the Chappaquiddick incident ... but downplayed his involvement. That may be the most salacious bit of information about any of this, and that's only because J. Edgar Hoover -- who was still the director of the FBI in 1969 -- didn't hate Teddy as much as he hated the rest of the Kennedys. He had a special antipathy for Bobby, but he pretty much broke out in a rash at the thought of any of them.

One can only guess that Hoover -- who was a pack rat when it came to hoarding incriminating information about people he detested -- planned at some point to hold all this over Teddy's head if the time was ever right.

I think I've made it pretty clear that I have decidedly mixed feelings about Teddy. I could, again, get into all the psychology of what made Teddy Teddy. I believe he was about as neglected growing up as a rich kid could possibly be ... raised by au pairs and nannies, with an emotionally distant mother who, by child No. 9, was wealthy beyond her comprehension and had her sights set on bigger things.

It's interesting that Rose Kennedy comes across as this saint, and that the mere mention of her name commands genuflection (and a greenway). From some of the things I've read, Rose was every bit as tough to please, and tough to accept, as Old Joe was. In fact, again, from things I've read, it was Old Joe who had the soft spot for his children. There was nothing soft about Rose.

I would have never wished to trade places with Edward Moore Kennedy ... not even for a day. I couldn't watch three brothers and a sister die the way his siblings did. I couldn't live knowing that there were nuts all over the world who wanted to make me another trophy.

I'd have probably found solace in a bottle or two myself with all that pressure on me. But I like to think I'd have stopped short not so much of manslaughter, but of ducking the responsibility and the repercussions of having committed manslaughter.

Oh, I know ... he paid for it in the end. That's what his supporters say. He lived with the knowledge of what he did, and it certainly cost him the presidency. To which I say big deal. It didn't cost him the Senate. It didn't cost him his position as the "liberal lion." He was able to wield a pretty powerful club, and for years too.

In fact, I submit that Teddy Kennedy probably ended up with more power, and more prestige, as a highly visible U.S. Senator who made presidents (even those from the other party) quake in fear of getting on his wrong side. He'd have have lost all that in the White House.

(Let that be a bit of advice for you, Sarah Palin. You're much more powerful ex-officio.)

Beyond anything I might think of him, though, there's got to come a time, both in Massachusetts and the country, where we have to pick up and move on (or, as Red Sox fans would say, pick up an Mo Vaughn). Ted is dead. Morte. I'm tired of hearing how much different health care would have gone had Teddy been alive (it's true; it would have been different, but the man is dead, and no amount of wistful wishing is going to change that).

The Democrats always talk about his legacy. I'm not sure what that legacy is, but I'm guessing it isn't driving cars off bridges. I'm guessing it's his record as an unabashed liberal who had both the cachet and a basic free pass to re-election every six years to stick his neck out on issues without too much fear of paying a steep price.

Ted Kennedy, even when he was alive, was a relic. There nobody out there anymore that beloved (justifiably or not). All 50 senators and 435 representatives are accountable. That's a good thing. And we're just going to have to accept that.

The reason why there isn't another Democrat who can step in and fill Teddy's shoes aren't that the shoes were that big (though they were big enough). It's because there's nobody in Congress anymore with the ability to swagger through life risk-free. Every representative and senator has so much riding on every vote these days that it's impossible to get any of them to act on their own gut beliefs. I'd say these days they're all pretty much up for sale to the highest bidder.

If Teddy had a positive legacy, it was that. He was politically immune to the repercussions from narrow interest groups who could coalesce to defeat him. His name, the sympathy he garnered from his public just because of his name, and his longevity, combined to guarantee that no matter what he did, he'd be sent back to Washington every six years. He probably could have run for the senate from a hospital bed and won ... oh, wait, he did that already? Figures.

That's why, now, it's disheartening to read another round of breathless reporting about Kennedy scandals. I heard every story yesterday and it was like, "gee, could you tell me something I don't know?" Hey, I know the news industry is in peril, but I guarantee this: It's not going to get out of trouble rehashing decades-old Kennedy scandals. In Massachusetts, we've heard them about a zillion times. Elsewhere, I'm not sure there's a soul out there who gives a damn.

If someone wants to, someday, initiate an objective debate about Ted Kennedy's public career, I'm there. I think there's still an awful lot to discuss, because he was, first, last, and always, a paradox. I still wonder how anyone could be so bold, and so fearless politically, yet so reckless personally. Then again, recklessness was a family trait too.

But spare me anymore titillating revelations that aren't really revelations. If you want a good idea of what I'm talking about, here's the Boston Herald story.

The Globe story was more restrained, but even the Boring Broadsheet (as the Herald calls it) couldn't let the sexcapades go.

Someday, maybe, we can stop wishing he was still here, and others can stop piling on long enough to let the man rest in peace. Someday, there will be another Democrat who emerges from the bowels of their rudderless ship and grab the helm and take it ... somewhere.

And that's not going to happen until everyone gets it into their heads that Teddy's gone ... and that reliving his legacy ... and his misdeed as well ... no longer serves any useful purpose.

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