Friday, July 17, 2009

Moon Landing and Chappaquiddick

Forty years ago this weekend, two events marked the end of the Kennedy era--Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, as JFK had promised, and his brother Ted drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick to signify the end of Camelot.

"I believe," President John F. Kennedy had told Congress the year Barack Obama was born, "that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth."

For those old enough to remember, that juxtaposition of Apollo 11 and Chappaquiddick will always mark the 1960s as a reminder of the essential truth about politics: high ideals being pursued by flawed human beings.

The jubilation over the moon landing ("one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind") was tempered back then by the trauma of a president's brother, and likely future candidate himself, involved in the death of a young woman and a scandal worsened by attempted coverups and a Nixonlike Checkers speech to save a political career.

Looking back 40 years later, does all this confirm Martin Luther King's contention that "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice," as often cited now by the first African-American president in history?

Chappaquiddick destroyed Ted Kennedy's hopes for the White House and led to 40 years of honorable service in the Senate, ending now with a terminally ill man devoting his remaining strength to the cause of health care reform.

Are the Kennedys' moral books balanced? A Higher Power will have to make that judgment.


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