Monday, January 13, 2003

That Kennedy Quote

A number of readers have written to say that they thought I took Charles Pearce's quote about Senator Edward Kennedy out of context. Since I included a link to Mr. Pearce's Sunday Globe magazine piece with the quote, I felt that that was all the context one could possibly need. But assuming that some people read the quote, but not the piece, what follows is a letter from a colleague of Mr. Pearce's:

Mr. Ellis:

I write in defense of my good friend and colleague Charlie Pierce, who wrote the cover story on Ted Kennedy from which you lifted the quote about Mary Jo Kopechne. As soon as I saw the byline on the article, I knew Charlie couldn't have said that with a straight face, and a quick reading of the article shows I was right. Here's the context... Charlie is riffing on a line used against Teddy Kennedy in his first campaign, that if his name was Edward Moore, his candidacy would have been a joke:

"And what of the dead woman? On July 18, 1969, on the weekend that man first walked on the moon, a 28-year-old named Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in his automobile. Plutocrats' justice and an implausible (but effective) coverup ensued. And, ever since, she's always been there: during Watergate, when Barry Goldwater told Kennedy that even Richard Nixon didn't need lectures from him; in 1980, when his presidential campaign was shot down virtually at its launch; during the hearings into the confirmation of Clarence Thomas, when Kennedy's transgressions gagged him and made him the butt of all the jokes.

"She's always there. Even if she doesn't fit in the narrative line, she is so much of the dark energy behind it. She denies to him forever the moral credibility that lay behind not merely all those rhetorical thunderclaps that came so easily in the New Frontier but also Robert Kennedy's anguished appeals to the country's better angels. He was forced from the rhetoric of moral outrage and into the incremental nitty-gritty of social justice. He learned to plod, because soaring made him look ridiculous. "It's really 3 yards and a cloud of dust with him," says his son Patrick. And if his name were Edward Moore, he would have done time.


And that's the key. That's how you survive what he's survived. That's how you move forward, one step after another, even though your name is Edward Moore Kennedy. You work, always, as though your name were Edward Moore. If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age."

It's part of the thesis of his article, that Kennedy has tried to bury his many disgraces through substantive, if small, achievements. That's arguable, but it's far more serious than your selective quoting suggests.