Nothing was ever expected of Ted Kennedy. He grew up knowing that. He was WAY down on the food chain.
Joesph P. Kennedy, Jr. was the son that his father, Joe Kennedy, Sr. had groomed to be president.
Unfortunately, after surviving his required 25 combat missions, he was killed on August 12, 1944 while serving as a test pilot for an experimental and cutting edge bombing technique.
With Joe Jr. dead, the family burden fell on JFK's shoulders. He was able to fulfill his father's ambition and become the first Irish Catholic president of the United States.
Unfortunately, JFK was assassinated before he could complete his first term of office.
The weight of the family legacy then fell on the shoulders of Bobby Kennedy.
I still think he would have been the best of the bunch.
But unfortunately, he was also gunned down in 1968, just 2 months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In a tragic and tumultuous 5 years, arguably the most important 5 years of the 20th century, the Kennedy mantle had been unexpectedly passed from the 2nd string quarter back to the 4th string quarter back.
He was completely traumatized and unprepared.
Joe, Jr. would be the one in the spotlight.
Jack would be the one in the spotlight.
Bobby would be the one in the spotlight.
Ted never, ever, expected to be in the spotlight.
Which explains why his behaviour in those days was so...unheroic.
He had all of the benefits of being a Kennedy but none of of the expectations of ever amounting to anything. Yet history kept brutally slicing it's way towards him.
History met a critical mass on July 18th, 1969. He was 35 years old. He attended a party on Chappaquiddick Island for "the boiler room girls" who had served in his brother Bobby's campaign the previous year. He offered to give Mary Jo Kopechne a ride home. On the way, he lost control of his car (probably because he was drunk) on Dike Bridge and the car went into Poucha Pond.
Although Ted Kennedy managed to swim his way free, Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in the car and the incident went unreported until fishermen discovered the car the following morning and reported it to officials who discovered the body of Mary Jo Kopechne inside.
Ironically, the fulfillment of his brother JFK's greatest legacy, landing a man on the moon, was in full swing. Apollo 11 lifted off on July 16th, 1969. Neal Armrsrong set foot on the moon on July 20th. What with the news lag 40 years ago, I have a copy (somewhere) of the Kansas City Star from July 20, 1969 that has "MAN LANDS ON THE MOON" in HUGE type above the fold and a much smaller reference to Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick below the fold.
There is no doubt whatsoever that his family's legacy and position spared him what would have been severe DUI and manslaughter charges for you and me.
I won't even try to justify it because I can't. He should have done time. But he didn't.
From 1969 until 1979 he was mainly an ineffectual politician maintaining a legacy Senate seat with the American public wondering when he would finally make a presidential run and, most likely, meet the same fate as his brothers.
That moment came when he decided to challenge Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Primary election. He decided to challenge a sitting president over the issue of health care. This was, and remained his passion. Nothing was more important to Ted Kennedy than bringing the United States up to the level of the rest of the industrialized nations that provided health care to everyone.
He barely finished announcing his candidacy before people started talking about Chappaquiddick. Fair enough.
He also ran a crappy and inarticulate campaign framed by the Iranian revolution and American Embassy hostages resulting in a deeply divided Democratic party and a Reagan win.
But I would argue that 1980 was the best thing to ever happen to Ted Kennedy.
He finally realized that he would never be president.
The burden of his father's expectations was finally lifted from his shoulders and he could focus on being the best Senator he could be.
And he was a GREAT Senator. He knew how to reach across party lines, compromise, and get things done.
If you look at the long list of legislative bills over 40 years that carry Ted Kennedy's name, the great majority of them will carry the name of a co-sponsor from the Republican party.
This is how government is supposed to work.
Ted Kennedy, despite insurrmountable burdens, inauspicious expectations and ineffectual initial efforts became one of the longest serving and most influential Senators in the history of the United States.
We will never see his like again.
Go in peace.