A Final Word (For Now) On Chappaquiddick

I received a lot of mail, a good percentage of it ugly, over my Friday post about the 40th anniversary of Chappaquiddick — the shorthand description of the July 1969 accident in which a car Sen. Ted Kennedy was driving went over a bridge, resulting in the death of a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne.

Much of the mail took me to task for having the insensitivity (their word) of reminding people of the accident as Kennedy is suffering from brain cancer. Others wondered why I would mention this when "what Bush and Cheney did was much worse" (their words). As if one thing had anything to do with the other.

With Kennedy approaching the end of his 46-year Senate career — the third longest in history — I was aware that this post might be considered controversial. At the same time, I balanced the post by talking about the Massachusetts Democrat's long career, his political highs and lows, and his legislative accomplishments. Anyone who has been covering politicians for as long as I have knows that there are good and bad in everyone, and to ignore the bad stuff because it might be painful to remember is a disservice to history.

Yes, I did see that many comments — as well as comments on other blogs that picked up my post — were quite vituperative about Kennedy. He is not, shall we say, everyone's favorite senator, and I know that. And given what people say on the Web, I guess I should have expected some of the more tasteless things I read. It gave many on the right an opportunity to rant about their least favorite liberal.

But Chappaquiddick happened. Whatever Kennedy has accomplished in his latter years — and he became a true giant in the Senate — it was a signficant blot on his record. At the time, it said volumes about his maturity and judgment. More significantly, it cost a young woman her life. It doesn't erase what he has done since. But it's part of the record.

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