Fourth Son Walks Tall
By Mike McArdle
He was named for Edward Moore, a man who, it is said, used
to procure women for his father. The males in his family would
always be controversial for the way they dealt with women.
The ninth and youngest child of a wealthy, talented family,
Ted Kennedy is both one of the most accomplished Senators
in U.S. history and a true American tragedy.
His father had wanted his oldest brother to be President
but Joe Jr. was killed in action in the waning days of World
His brother John was President but was gunned down in Dallas
His brother Robert was running for President when he was
gunned down moments after his greatest political victory.
At Robert's funeral mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New
York Ted Kennedy delivered a eulogy so powerful and so moving
that he instantly assumed the mantle of leadership both in
his family and among millions who believed in the things that
had driven his brother's Presidential campaign. There was
a movement to place his name in nomination at the turbulent
1968 convention in Chicago and possibly even enough support
to win but he discouraged the effort. He was 37. There was
plenty of time.
And then a year later it all ended. He drove off a bridge
with a girl in the car. He made it out, the girl didn't. He
handled the aftermath awkwardly. Massachusetts forgave him
but his Presidential aspirations were fatally wounded, although
it was to be more than a decade before that became certain.
When he finally made his run for the Presidency he chose
the most inopportune moment. Challenging the beleaguered incumbent
Democrat, Jimmy Carter, he ran poorly from the start, fumbling
an interview with Roger Mudd and losing consistently in the
early primaries. He eventually won some primaries, recovering
enough to hurt Carter's chances for reelection but not to
get the nomination for himself. And then in one of the great
ironies that have seemed to follow him throughout his life
he gave his greatest political speech to the convention as
it prepared to renominate Carter.
With the same stirring eloquence he had shown 12 years earlier
when speaking of his dead brother he spoke of the economic
hardships of millions of Americans and challenged the Democratic
Party to "reunite on the basis of Democratic principles."
And with that the man who had once seemed certain to be President
abandoned his quest for the White House forever.
He remained in the Senate, becoming one of the most effective
legislators ever to serve there but the enormous promise he
had once shown and the hope among millions that he would revive
the idealism of the decade that his brothers had so dominated
was gone. He went through a divorce. He gained weight and
there were persistent unattractive stories of drinking and
womanizing. His family was plagued by scandals and suffered
yet another tragedy when John's son died while flying his
plane to a family wedding.
He became the opposition's best fund-raiser. Right-wing
organizations raked in piles of money by claiming that they
would work to thwart Ted Kennedy's agenda. Republican candidates
for office often ran commercials denouncing their Democratic
opponents for "voting with Ted Kennedy." In recent
years Hillary Clinton has replaced him as the right-wing's
number one bogeyman but he can still fire up talk show hosts
and their more rabid callers.
But he's never shied away from raising important issues
and last week Ted Kennedy walked tall again. White-haired,
still too heavy, almost a caricature of the handsome, dynamic
young spellbinder he had once been, he took on the Iraq war,
rapidly becoming a defining issue to many in his party just
as the Vietnam War had been back in 1968.
The case for the Iraq war was a "fraud," he said,
giving voice to sentiments that so many Democrats shared but
had not heard from the party's leadership. One of only 23
Senators to vote against the war resolution he said what has
since become obvious: "There was no imminent threat. This
was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican
leadership that war was going to take place and was going
to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud."
He demanded an accounting of the money being spent and the
massive amount of money that the Bush administration is requesting
to continue a war that never needed to be fought to begin
with. He said the things that so many Democrats had been waiting
The right wing reacted with predictable fury. Tom Delay,
the only exterminator more repugnant than the things he killed,
called on Democrats to repudiate Kennedy's comments but Ted
refused to back down. "This is a failed, flawed, bankrupt
policy. The American people want answers." he said the
following day on CNN.
In St. Patrick's cathedral 35 years ago, when he represented
the political hopes and aspirations of millions of Americans,
Kennedy said, "Moral courage is a rarer commodity than
bravery in battle or great intelligence." He may never
have lived up to the promise of that day - but he's never
been lacking in moral courage either.