Dear Ted Kennedy: It's 25 years since you careered off that bridge at Chappaquiddick in your Oldsmobile, and your passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, died. So should we still think the worst of you?

Mark Lawson
Tuesday 19 July 1994 23:02

You recently issued a statement to mark this week's 25th anniversary of Chappaquiddick. You said that you bore the sole responsibility for what happened, and that you would never forget the pain caused to the Kopechne family.

Apparently, cynics in Massachusetts are already saying that you made these remarks because you are currently involved in the first real fight of your career for your Senate seat, with many predicting you may lose to your Republican opponent in November. They think that what you said this week was an attempt at damage limitation. Funny, isn't it, how people seem determined to think the worst of you?

I am going to try to think the best of you, as I have always had some sympathy for your plight. If you were ever to appear in court as a defendant - and I realise that many people think that you should have done by now - your attorney would have so much to plead in mitigation.

People used to ask, in the Seventies, how you slept at night, meaning how did you cope with the guilt of Chappaquiddick. But I have always wondered how you slept before that - already a veteran of other funerals. Many have lost a brother in war - as you did - but how many of those have had two other brothers assassinated, their deaths and funerals worldwide television events?

There have been two kinds of tragedies in your family. One was to die young, as your brothers did; the other was to live to be old, like you, the only brother to reach 60, and your mother, now 104. Your problem is that people wanted you to put right what had happened - by becoming President, by carrying on the line - without allowing that your own trauma at these events must have been at least twice theirs.

And, when you failed to live up to the Kennedy legend - largely a false one, created by grief and sentiment - they blamed you for living, when the others had not. You reminded people of what they had lost.

Hamlet, when asked how he is, replies that he is fine, 'except that I have bad dreams'. Well, what must yours be like? People say that you tried to forget those dreams in drink and women, and you probably did.

But you have also been one of the most hard-working US Senators, an energetic tabler of legislation, one of the few with genuinely radical ideas, an advocate of universal healthcare decades before it became popular.

Financially, you could have left politics years ago to become a Cape Cod playboy, but the ghosts of your family keep you in Washington, fighting on 20 years after the presidency became an impossibility.

You are a tragic figure, but only the vindictive could say that this is entirely a matter of self-destruction. I realise that if I were the parents of Mary Jo Kopechne, I would not think this, but I hope that, on this latest of your bad-dream anniversaries, you sleep.

Yours, Mark Lawson

(Photograph omitted)

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