Ted Kennedy and the Civics Lesson
August 26, 2009
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In 1970, when I was in eighth grade, I took a Current Events class. During the previous summer, Ted Kennedy drove his car into the Chappaquiddick, leaving his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, in the car; she was found dead the next day.
The case came up in Civics class. I defended Kennedy. My case, if I recall correctly, was that he was a Very Important Man–the brother of Jack Kennedy, our dear assassinated president, and of Robert Kennedy–hadn’t his family suffered enough?
My Current Events teacher asked me if I really thought important people were above the law, and didn’t have to follow the same laws as the rest of us. I’m sure I mumbled something, but her point was made.
The irony, of course, is that Kennedy wasn’t treated just the same as the rest of us; he almost assuredly escaped the punishment a poorer and less well-known person would receive. And the further irony is that Kennedy has always been a fighter for the rights of those who are left out.
Kennedy epitomizes the American dilemma: wanting to keep its privileges, and yet to share them; fighting for an idealized equality, but taking the personal advantage. Still, I appreciate honest and disinterested judges.