"Edward Kennedy, perhaps more than any United States senator in the past half century, cared about the poor and dispossessed. Though he was relentlessly mocked by the right as a tax-and-spend liberal, he kept the faith."
Thus wrote Newsweek's Evan Thomas of the late Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy today in an obituary that acknowledged and in places excused the late senator's sins even as it remembered him as a saint of secular liberalism.:
Kennedy became known on Capitol Hill for his antics. In a Washington Monthly essay titled "Kennedy's Woman Problem, Women's Kennedy Problem," author Suzannah Lessard accused Kennedy of "a severe case of arrested development, a kind of narcissistic intemperance, a huge babyish ego that must be constantly fed." More like it, a huge sadness that needed to be blotted out by sex and alcohol.
Thomas did acknowledge Kennedy's actions in the Chappaquiddick incident and how his delay in alerting police may have cost Mary Jo Kopechne her life, but then ridiculously added:
And yet, a presidential run was somehow inevitable, or at least unavoidable. In 1980, with President Jimmy Carter sliding in the polls, Kennedy decided to try to unseat him as the Democratic nominee. His heart was not in the effort. Kennedy was rambling and listless in an interview with CBS newsman Roger Mudd, unable to say why he wanted to be president. His campaign collapsed.
Kennedy upstaged Carter at the Democratic Convention with his evocative speech promising that "the dream will never die." And then, knowing that he could never be president, he was finally liberated to do what he was really good at—getting Congress to pass laws to help the downtrodden. During the Reagan years, he defended liberalism like a lion. But he worked behind the scenes to forge alliances across the aisle that kept alive liberal legislation.
His heart wasn't in the effort? Kennedy kept his campaign alive up to the last minute, fighting for an "open convention" in 1980 in a last ditch effort at wresting the Democratic nomination from President Jimmy Carter. What's more, Kennedy's infamous bumbling interview with Roger Mudd took place on November 4, 1979, well before any 1980 primary and a few days before he officially kicked off his 1980 campaign.
But what's really important, Thomas noted, was that Kennedy was a rich guy who cared, and worked hard at it (with other people's money):
He was hardly the first rich person to care. Oblige has gone with noblesse for ages; Franklin Roosevelt, creator of the New Deal, was a rich aristocrat. But there was a seriousness, a doggedness to Kennedy. He was no dilettante, no limousine liberal. He was a prodigious worker, the strongest force in the government for women's rights and health care, civil rights and immigration, the rights of the disabled and education. He was effective: in the Senate, to get something done, you went to Ted Kennedy