Born February 22, 1932, in Boston, Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy was brought into the U.S. Senate on the coattails of his brothers: Robert Francis Kennedy and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who were respectively, at the time, Attorney General and President of the United States. Along with his brothers, two other forces pulled him into the Senate: his father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, a million in the 1920's and 1930's who smuggled liquor as part of an organized crime ring; and the Democrat party, which understood the Kennedy family to be a sort of dynasty.
Ted Kennedy's main interests were sports (he played tennis and hockey, but focused mainly on football), women, and liquor. After being placed into the Senate, the most significant event in his career was the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, and the coverup of that death. Historian Ann Coulter writes:
In 1969, married U.S. senator Ted Kennedy killed Mary Jo Kopechne when he drove his car off the Cahppaquiddick bridge following a party on Martha's Vineyard. Kennedy escaped the car and left Mary Jo behind, where she was trapped in the car and drowned. He then returned to his hotel to engage in ostentatious behavior to create an alibi for the time of the accident. Since no one else would take responsibility for his accident, Kennedy was eventually forced to admit he was the driver of the car that plunged Mary Jo Kopechne to her death. Luckily for him, the Kennedy
family has especially strong political influence in Massachusetts; the Democrat Party used its influence on his behalf, that party also being powerful
in Massachusetts, so he only pled guilty to a minor infraction and never served a day in jail.
Historians will note the parallels to the case of Tarquin the Proud: Ted Kennedy would correspond to Sextus Tarquinius, and Mary Jo to Lucretia. Teddy and Sextus were protected by political machines which kept them from facing the consequences for the crimes committed against Lucretia and Mary Jo. Yet Kennedy's guilt lingered in many minds:
In 1980 - just a little more than ten years after he killed Kopechne - Teddy Kennedy ran for President. After running in the 1960 presidential election, Richard Nixon went on an eight-year hiatus just for losing an election. The Chappaquiddick incident seems to have colored the morals of the entire Democratic Party. The party has become practiced at defending the indefensible. One imagines Bill Clinton thinking
that if Kennedy survived the Chappaquiddick event, Clinton could surely stonewall his way out of the Monica Lewinsky affair. Similarly, Obama didn't let his documented chronic marijuana habit stand in the way of a presidential campaign (reported by the press as "the choom gang"). Kennedy's criminal behavior tainted seemingly unrelated aspected of his party's platform. Concerning those Democrats who worked to create a moderate image of their party, Ann Coulter asked,
if the Democrats want to stay in the middle of the road, why do they keep sticking with Teddy Kennedy? Didn't he have some trouble staying in the middle of the road?
The cynicism with which the party continually embraced Kennedy, despite the public's knowledge of his guilt, and the insincerity of the party's praise of Kennedy's ethics, left the party open to criticism by means of irony. Hailing Kennedy as a moral hero while knowing of his criminality exposed the Democratic Party to sarcastic assessments:
Teddy Kennedy crawls out of Boston Harbor with a quart of Scotch in one pocket and a pair of pantyhose in the other, and Democrats hail him as their party's spiritual leader.
Light was continually directed toward Kennedy's misdeeds, exposing him, and by association, the Democratic Party, because he steadily maintained a transparently false air of innocence, surrounded by vague and evasive language, and because he avoided any legal or significant consequences for his misdeeds:
It's not as if Democrats can say: Okay, okay! The man paid a price! Let it go! He didn't pay a price. The Kopechne family paid a price. Kennedy weaved away scot-free.
After causing the death of an innocent young woman, Ted Kennedy spent thirty-nine years in the Senate, plagued by alcohol problems and by credibility problems. His party's attempt to use him as an icon in struggle to claim "moral high ground" in its ideological battles - an attempt motivated in part by the memory of his brothers - was doomed to fail because of the raging internal contradictions involved in viewing Ted Kennedy as some type of ethical leader.