Douglas Brinkley on Ted Kennedy's Life: 'He Did a Kind of a Redemptive Work'

August 27th, 2009 5:31 PM

Douglas Brinkley continued his use of religious imagery to gush about the legacy of Ted Kennedy and his apparent Catholicism on CNN’s Newsroom on Thursday. Brinkley did his best to paper over the many moral downfalls of the senator: “He’s asked to be forgiven by people. He did a kind of a redemptive work throughout his whole career. He would fall off the wagon....But he constantly said, I can do better.”

Near the end of the 12 pm Eastern hour of the CNN program, anchor Tony Harris asked the liberal presidential historian and CBS commentator, “You hear...about some of the failings in the senator’s life, and what is it about us as people that- on a day like today- a day like yesterday, we are willing to, in many cases, look past some of those failings, and focus in on the positive arc of a person’s life?” Brinkley played up Kennedy’s Catholic background, and instead using the “martyr” term he used on Wednesday, used more general religious language in his answer:

“Well, for starters, Ted Kennedy was Catholic, and a big part of Catholicism is forgiveness. It’s the confession. He’s asked to be forgiven by people. He did a kind of a redemptive work throughout his whole career. He would fall off the wagon. He had a bit of a drinking problem. There was a carousing issue that came up. But he constantly said, I can do better. He asked the public directly, a number of times, that these are my own personal shortcomings, and I’m working on it.”

Just over an hour later, during the first minutes of the 2 pm Eastern hour of Newsroom, Brinkley went into an extended monologue about how the deceased Senator was apparently a practicing Catholic and the positive impact his family had on the acceptance of the Catholic faith in the U.S. Anchor Kyra Phillips did not question the historian on any of the controversial issues where the senator was at odds with Church teaching, such as abortion, and his divorce and remarriage. The historian also hinted that he is not exactly a faithful Catholic himself, given his church attendance.

Douglas Brinkley, Presidential Historian | NewsBusters.orgBRINKLEY: Remember, that the Kennedys are- well, they’re kind of both outsiders and insiders. They had to fight as Irish Catholics to be part of a Protestant New England, and- you know, when you’re there at Hyannis Port, you can feel the tug of Ireland, particularly when you go sailing. It’s just across the pond, as they like to say, and- you know, this Irishness is there, and it again connects to the Roman Catholicism I mentioned earlier. I didn’t know this until I read it in The New York Times, but Senator Kennedy- Ted Kennedy, after Rose died in 1995- for one year, went to Mass every day for an entire year. I’m Catholic- if I go to Mass- you know, once- once a month, I’m feeling spiritual. But to go every day- you know, so-

PHILLIPS: (Laughs) You’ve got to rid all the guilt- you’ve got have confession, and it’s the good, Irish Catholic thing to do, Doug. You know that (laughs).

BRINKLEY: Well, and it’s- and it’s- you know, and I think that Ted Kennedy’s sense of faith and the family’s belief- when you have this kind of- the amount of tragedies that they’ve had- and I think they have turned- turned to priests- have turned constantly to Catholicism as a- a source of refuge. You know, one out of every four Americans is Catholic, and yet, up until John Kennedy’s election in 1970 [sic], there had been a- anti-Catholic bigotry. There was a Know-Nothing Party against Catholics, and when Al Smith ran for president in the 1920s, they- people thought the Vatican was going to run America. And the Kennedys broke the stigma against Catholicism, and they did it in Protestant New England. And they did it by keeping the family unit together, and at all costs- as David Gergen said- of putting family first.

JFK won in 1970? It looks like the presidential historian was a bit off in that statement.

Earlier, Phillips asked Brinkley if there were any worthy successors to the Ted Kennedy, and the historian sounded like a sycophant for the political clan:

PHILLIPS: We were talking with David Gergen about the lion of the Senate there, and how this is a very emotional time for the family, but also- the perfect place for the senator to die. It was where he found peace, it was where he was the most happy, and, of course, it’s where all members of the family were. And now, as he moves from his home to his final resting place, a lot of people asking- okay, who’s going to fill his shoes, and is it possible?
BRINKLEY: Well, there is nobody that’s ever going to fill Ted Kennedy’s shoes, and that’s a tall order for somebody in the family to try to live up to. It’s a new generation, right now, of Kennedys that are doing very active public service things. Robert Kennedy, Jr., for example, has become our top environmentalist. He is constantly fighting polluters. He’s trying to save mountains right now in West Virginia, and he’s fighting for parks in Alaska.

You have people like Rory Kennedy, who is becoming a cutting-edge filmmaker for HBO- currently doing a documentary about the border fence going up between the United States and Mexico, and has been involved with issues of AIDS- on [the] global AIDS epidemic. You have people like- you know, Kerry Kennedy, who just wrote a book on being Catholic ,which has- became a bestseller for her, and she organizes Speak Truth to Power- these human rights conferences all over the world, and getting a- a great membership to all of her speeches and everything that she does. So, I could go on and on. There are so many of them.