Thursday, September 03, 2009

Kennedy Candor

“Atonement is a process that never ends,” Ted Kennedy writes in his memoir, confronting the shame shadowing his life that was avoided in a weekend of tributes--the death of a young woman at Chappaquiddick.

In a preview of the 532-page volume to be published later this month, the New York Times discloses that Kennedy "called his behavior after the 1969 car accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne 'inexcusable' and said the events might have shortened the life of his ailing father, Joseph P. Kennedy.

"In that book, 'True Compass,' Mr. Kennedy said he was dazed, afraid and panicked in the minutes and hours after he drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island with Ms. Kopechne as his passenger.

"The senator, who left the scene and did not report the accident to the police until after her body was found the next day, admitted in the memoir that he had 'made terrible decisions' at Chappaquiddick."

Such candor has not been typical of the Kennedys, who fought fiercely to protect their family myth over decades. That's underscored in this month's Vanity Fair story of how Jacqueline Kennedy commissioned William Manchester's book about JFK's assassination, "Death of a President," and then went to court to force him to cut parts of it that family advisers (she herself couldn't bear to read it) deemed personally or politically incorrect.

During that period, I published excerpts from a light-hearted book by Red Fay, a college friend of JFK's who had been his Undersecretary of the Navy. After strong-arming the publisher into cutting dozens of such harmless revelations as two-year-old John Jr. splashing his father at poolside and calling him "poo-poo head," Robert Kennedy solemnly thanked me for going along to "protect the children."

In the 21st century, such control is long-gone. In its account of the Ted Kennedy memoir, the Times notes, "The book does not shy from the accident, or from some other less savory aspects of the senator’s life, including a notorious 1991 drinking episode in Palm Beach, Fla., or the years of heavy drinking and women-chasing that followed his 1982 divorce from his first wife, Joan."

The last of the Kennedy brothers lived long enough to learn that the public now insists on seeing its heroes in the full, warts and all.


Fuzzy Slippers said...

Great post! I do miss the days when we were more respectful of others' privacy and not so eager to dig through their dirty laundry and pick at their scabs, but as you say, they are long gone, and Senator Kennedy recognized that.

Tim Fleming said...

The Truman quote is what drew me to your blog, for this is the premise of my novel of historical fiction. The history Americans don't know will doom all of us.

Tim Fleming