The Man Who Became the ‘Lion of the Senate’

Oct 27, 2022 · 49 comments
Jack be Quick (Albany)
This quote from The Great Gatsby is appropriate for all the Kennedy's, but especially for Ted: "They were careless people...they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made..."
[email protected] 🌍 (Zurich, SWITZERLAND)
I'm from Boston and if the country wasn't so polarized, Ted Kennedy deserves a statue in DC. ♟️
m sherman md (florida)
How nice. A “ sympathetic take” on the life of a dissolute skirt chasing drunkard and cheat who is solely responsible for the negligent death of an innocent young woman (all indisputable facts). Anyone else would have been in jail. Skoal, Ted.
RS (Alabama)
You voted for Trump once or twice?
m sherman md (florida)
Nope, he is a dissolute skirt chaser and cheat. No double standard here.
Mgav (New York)
A comment about the subject at hand and somehow, still, it’s about….Trump, with you?
Thomas (Massachusetts)
I hope and wonder if the book includes Ted's statement in the run-up to the Iraq War, aka the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld follies, with a lapdog assist from Tony Blair as well as Colin "UN Speech" Powell, that it was "a fraud cooked up in Texas."
Reading one (Pennsylvania)
Two Teds... Cruz or Kennedy... Hmmm, I'd pick Kennedy
Miroc (SC)
Drunk and a perv that only Dems would idolize.
JH (Manhattan)
@Miroc You voted for Trump, right? And you think you have grounds to criticize?
Mgav (New York)
The Donald, amazingly, STILL living rent free in your head.
Sam (California)
The "Lion of the senate?" Never heard that one before. The only reputation Ted Kennedy has is his raging alcoholism.
CSD (Palo Alto)
It is almost impossible to get past Chappaquiddick when considering Kennedy's moral compass and extraordinary sense of privilege, particularly given his continued reprehensible personal conduct thereafter. A Kennedy is a Kennedy is a Kennedy.
Charlie (San Francisco)
I dunno. I thought Teddy was a loud, drunken bore. I'll always remember how he tanked Single Payer Medical Care for all Americans so that Jimmy Carter wouldn't get credit for signing it into law. Is that in the book?
VJM (Windsor)
I think it was the late columnist Mike Royko who compared Ted Kennedy to the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When he was good, he was very, very good but when he was bad, he was horrid. My apologies if it wasn’t Mike Royko but what a great description.
John Thomas (Austin TX)
Republicans, especially the Religious Right, overlook Donald Trump’s moral failings because they believe in what they think is the greater good of his agenda, which, to them, transcends those failings. Contrast that with their attitude towards Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy, whom they relentlessly attacked for their moral failings despite the greater good they actually did and tried to do as stewards of the nation. Any questions?
m sherman md (florida)
Many, many folks, including me, believe they are both despicable human beings.
Mgav (New York)
Clinto who did not have sex with that woman who was the sam eage as his daughter, or Clinton who tried to destroy that women — who should always be believed—who was the same age as her daughter, or Clinton who took how many trips on the Jeffrey Epstein Lolita express flight? Which one are we talking about?
Carl Zeitz (Lawrence NJ)
Clark Clifford was many, many things in his career at or near the heights of power, including being "a Washington" Fixer." But how sad that his often momentous life is reduced to that description. It is a caution for all those preening popinjays, peacocks, and prevaricators who claw their way to the center of the universe, power in Washington.
Mike Seltzer (Monterey County)
Teddy fought the good fight. With Donald Trump as the new benchmark for amorality, Teddy falls back into the pack of flawed politicians.
js (St. Paul, MN)
With no identifiable talents, he always seemed to be propped up by handlers to fulfill expectations he was fundamentally incapable of achieving. The handlers could only do so much – see his incomprehensible answer to the question why he had the qualifications to be president during the Carter campaign. Kennedy’s soap opera life I find, in retrospect, to be exceedingly boring. Women and booze as the default behaviors, that’s original.
Bill (FL)
Chappaquidick. Cheating (twice) at Harvard. Philandery. Those are the measure of Ted Kennedy. His last name, family connections and numerous flacks and enablers are what gave him a pass through life despite his terrible and mistakes and behavior. By the way, I had occasion to drive across the Chappaquiddick Bridge several years before the Kennedy scandal. It is hard to navigate at even a few miles per hour during daylight, and much harder to see and manage at night. My take is that accidents can happen, though Kennedy's behavior during and immediately after the accident is totally inexcusable.
RCS (Princeton Junction)
I was very very young during the JFK and the RFK era but as I became older, I became very enmeshed in the mystique of the Kennedy family like everyone else, as it contained a distinct thematic undertone of a “Greek Tragedy”. In my opinion, Ted Kennedy’s life was kinda “Meh” compared to the lives of his illustrious two older brothers. It seemed like that he tried his best to emulate the legacies of his two older brothers in order to appease his father, his family and possibly our nation. There was too much pressure on this youngest son of a wealthy patriarch who pushed his sons too hard to fulfill his own unfulfilled ambitions. I think Ted was just a pleasure loving son of a very wealthy businessman. Too much expectations from his family and the nation, made him very pressured. Notwithstanding the above, Ted committed cardinal sin, for his callous and inhuman behavior regarding Mary Jo Kopechne’s tragic death. It was inexcusable. Final thought, hate to say this but I’m tired of reading about the Kennedy family - enough is enough!
paul (sc)
I don't understand....you're tired of reading about the Kennedys, yet you read a book review. About one of the Kennedys.
Joe Gillis (Sunset Blvd.)
Amen to your last sentiment. Any tiny new nuggets of information about Kennedy could be put on a website called “People We Don’t Need Any More Documentaries, Books, TV Shows, or Movies About” … which would also include QE2, Bob Dylan, Tesla, The Beatles & The Rolling Stones, Leonard Cohen, Frida Kahlo, Hunter S. Thompson, and at least a dozen other subjects of recurring and increasingly less informative studies, which suck up all the available space. Meantime, researchers and other creatives need to go do some real work and tell us about people we don’t know about, instead of plowing the same old reliable fields.
Mgav (New York)
In short, he was Fredo Kennedy?
Brendan Varley (Tavares Fla)
Kennedy sponsored and passed more legislation for military veterans than any other member of either party since World War II.
American Expat (In Asia)
Ted Kennedy was the worst person to get a ride home with, but one of the greatest Senators of the second half of the Twentieth Century. His record and integrity as a liberal politician speaks for itself. That one terrible lapse of judgment of failure to report—that may have caused Mary Jo Kopechne's death does not eclipse the record of legislative work that followed for the next four decades. It may loom over it, and create an inescapable shadow, but it it does not eclipse the work. Would that today's liberal senators work as hard as Ted Kennedy in doing good works in the the legislature.
Mike (Somewhere In Idaho)
For the life of me I do not understand why this individual should be considered important. A tragic comedic figure maybe, probably, but great not so much. A spoiled protected person who was a great swimmer, a drunk, a mediocre politician running on empty. Never will live down being a lying weak man.
Joe Gillis (Sunset Blvd.)
… because of his real accomplishments? You’re confusing importance with reverence.
Macaulay (Tribeca)
There's really no level of utter depravity that liberals won't excuse, as long as the man toes the ideological line
Charles (Maine)
Perhaps you might take a look in the mirror.
maxsub (NH, CA)
@Macaulay Donald Trump. Hershel Walker. Ron Jonson. Doug Mastroiano. Puppy-killer Mehmet Oz. Marjorie Taylor Green .Lauren Boebert. Kari Lake. Matt Gaetz. Ron DeSantis. Gym Jordan. Dennis Hastert. Newt Gingrich. The Jan 6 Insurrectionists. Tucker Carlson. Bill O'Reilly. Rand Paul. Michael Flynn. The 9 still-serving Republican US Senators who feted Vladimir Putin on July 4. The list goes on....Talk about depravity. Ted Kennedy was not depraved, just morally and psychologically flawed, and profoundly damaged by his upbringing and the tragedy he endured throughout his life. For all that, he actually worked to make America a fairer, freer, more decent place for people not born into the privilege he enjoyed from birth. Including people who hated him like yourself.
David (Seattle)
@Macaulay - There's really no level of utter depravity that Republicans won't excuse, as long as the man toes the ideological line. Viz. Donald Trump.
Pat Hoppe (Seguin, Texas)
I'll take Ted Kennedy over any of the Republicans today. As he matured, he became a positive force in the Senate. He could have walked away at any time. He didn't. He was instrumental in many of the policies that help ordinary people.
American Expat (In Asia)
@Pat Hoppe I'll take him over any of the Republicans yesterday, too. There's little to fault in his record in the legislature.
mpound (USA)
DUI fatal car crashes, pathological marital infidelities, a lifetime of substance abuse along with an army of enablers dedicated to covering it all up, Ted Kennedy certainly set the standard that numerous younger Kennedy's have followed in his wake. Good for him.
RG (Vermont)
To me this has always been a test of the morality of the political being. I am a lifelong liberal, so please don't throw the "you're a Trump supporter" at me. It's a matter of simple reversal of roles, a simple mind game. Pick a Republican, especially one you don't or didn't like. That person does what Ted Kennedy did at Chappaquiddick. Do you find excuses? Forgive him because he did a great job later in life as a senator? If the answer is "yes, I don't mind that Trump/Bush/Dole thought more about their career and image than the life of a woman they were connected to", then you pass, Kennedy is a great, if flawed person. If you think that contributing to the death of another person by thinking only of yourself is not a foible to be forgiven, then welcome to the world of actual, rather than situational, morality.
Jane (Denver, CO)
I worked as an intern in his Washington Office one summer. He was warm, kind and generous. He let his staff use his swimming pool on. weekends, and many did. He made sure interns knew when important hearings were occurring so that we could watch. He took us all to lunch in the Senate Dining Room a few times. I do not condone or forget his many personal failings but he was a good person to work for and he did a lot of good things for this country.
m sherman md (florida)
And his dog liked him too.
Christopher (Brooklyn, NY)
Kennedy cost Jimmy Carter in 1980 and helped usher in 40 years of economic misery that is Reaganomics.
Karen (Bay Area)
Christopher, the Pious Carter should have focused on a big job in his administration for Teddy. Then he would have had a friend rather than a formidable foe.
Theresa’s (NJ)
Hysterical. He was involved in the death of a young woman he was romancing while a married man but he’s portrayed as some kind of Saint. Get real! He didn’t report her drowning, he called his brothers to shield him. He appeared with a neck collar for sympathy. Meanwhile a young woman died. The Kennedys did what they do best! Rally round and protect the Family. Can’t the NYT write about real heroes.
Robertino (Bayside NY)
@Theresa’s He couldn't have called his brothers to shield him. By 1969, he had no surviving brothers......only his sisters.
Herbert Adler (Pittsburgh PA)
I think it is important to remind this writer that Sen. Kennedy‘s oldest brother was killed when a Torpex high explosive detonated near the plane he was on during a very dangerous mission for which he volunteered while helping to save the world from the Nazis. His second oldest brother was assassinated while serving his country as president. His third oldest brother was assassinated while campaigning to serve his country as president. As has been pointed out, there were no brothers left to call on. I can’t help but think that, had the victim of such cruel, violent and extreme trauma been suffered by a poor, polyamorous POC, the writer’s attitude would lean more to the, er, sympathetic. We are all human beings, all worthy of the grace of understanding and forgiveness. All means all. Expect maybe Hitler…and Kanye.
Harvey Roach (Cape May, NJ)
@Theresa’s This is a book review, published in the NYT, not an article about Ted Kennedy. As others have noted, his brothers were all dead by ‘69. Disagree with his actions if you want, discount his accomplishments in the Senate but he was a man who admitted his many failings and stayed in the arena to make a difference.
greg starr (oslo Norway)
Still, all in all, considering the massive opportunities and priviledges he had, his life was kind of wasted, wasn't it? And he had problems with self-discipline, from ice cream to anyone in a skirt.
JH (Manhattan)
@greg starr Wasted except for that amazing Senate career and the positive impact he had on veterans, women's rights, children's rights, etc.
Owen Duncan (Indianola, Iowa)
I remember Kennedy glad handing his way into an Iowa coffee house suddenly stopping and turning to seize Joan, pushing her to the front saying you'll want to meet my wife. She was clearly not happy to be there.
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