Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Will Ted Kennedy Tell All?

The last survivor of the twentieth century's great brother act is writing his memoirs, fittingly for one of the largest advances of all time, north of $8 million.

"I've been fortunate in my life to grow up in an extraordinary family and to have a front row seat at many key events in our nation's history," Ted Kennedy said in a statement.

He will be the first of his generation to live long enough to tell the story of those lives that were marked by grandeur, scandal and grief.

The youngest of nine children, Edward Moore Kennedy was thrown out of Harvard for cheating but, with one brother as President and another Attorney General, he overcame adversity by winning Jack's former Senate seat, which had been kept warm for him by a family friend until he turned 30 in 1962 and was eligible to run for it.

In the 1960s, he was seen at TV funerals of both brothers, became the surrogate father of their 13 children and ended the decade, on the weekend of the first moon landing, driving a car into the waters off Chappaquiddick island, resulting in the drowning of the young woman who was with him.

That scandal would have ended any other political career but, in 1980, he was preparing to challenge unpopular incumbent Jimmy Carter for the Democratic Presidential nomination. I know because I published a 90th birthday reminiscence by his mother that summer, arranged by loyal JFK staffers as part of Ted Kennedy's public rehabilitation.

But his heart was not in it. In a CBS special just before announcing the candidacy, his answer to the question of why he wanted to be president was so vague, rambling and unsure that poll numbers plummeted and it was over.

When he looks back on all that and a remarkable 45-year career in the Senate that includes championing gun control, alternative energy and immigration reform as well as voting against invading Iraq in 2002, Ted Kennedy will have a lot to tell in his autobiography but, for better or worse, most potential readers will have strong opinions about him even before they turn the first page.

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