Democratic Underground  
The Fourth Son Walks Tall
September 24, 2003
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 War II.

His brother John was President but was gunned down in Dallas in 1963.

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 to hear.

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.

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