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End of an Epoch: Kennedy to Be Buried Near Brothers at Arlington
In 1969, Sen. Kennedy wrested the post of Senate majority whip from Russell B. Long, a powerful Senate veteran from Louisiana, to become at 36 the Senate's youngest majority whip. He lost the post to Byrd in 1971, in part because of preoccupation with the scandal two years earlier that claimed the life of a young woman and changed forever the arc of his political career.
On July 18, 1969, Sen. Kennedy attended a small get-together of friends and former Robert Kennedy campaign workers on Chappaquiddick, an island off Martha's Vineyard. Late that night, his car ran off a narrow bridge and plunged into a tidal pool. His passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, one of the campaign workers, drowned.
Sen. Kennedy, who failed to report the incident for about nine hours, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene of an accident. He received a two-month suspended sentence and lost his driver's license for a year.
In a televised speech six days after Kopechne's death, he said that he had been overcome by such emotions as "fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion and shock." But speculation endured for years, altering his political fate.
His speech to the 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York's Madison Square Garden suggested what might have been. In powerful, ringing tones, his "dream shall never die" speech called on the party to recommit itself to traditional Democratic values.
He congratulated Carter and then concluded his speech with the passion and defiance that had become vintage Kennedy: "For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."
Delegates leapt to their feet. Their uproarious demonstration lasted more than a half-hour.
Addressing Personal Problems
Turning back to the work of the Senate, in 1987 he led opposition to the nomination of Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court. "In Robert Bork's America," Sen. Kennedy said, "there is no room at the inn for blacks and no place in the Constitution for women. And, in our America, there should be no seat on the Supreme Court for Robert Bork."
The senator and his first wife, Joan Bennett Kennedy, who struggled with alcoholism for many years, divorced in 1982 after 24 years of marriage. Although dogged by tales of misbehavior, he conscientiously carried out his role of patriarch: a father to his children and a surrogate father to a score of nieces and nephews.
In a 1991 speech at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Sen. Kennedy spoke of the problems of his personal life. "I recognize my own shortcomings," he said. "I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them."
'This Is What We Do'
Sen. Kennedy seemed to regain his footing, personally and politically, after his marriage in 1992 to Victoria Anne Reggie, a lawyer from a Louisiana political family. She survives, along with three children from his first marriage, Kara Anne Kennedy, Edward M. Kennedy Jr. and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.); two stepchildren; and four grandchildren.
In 1994, Sen. Kennedy defeated a challenge by Republican businessman Mitt Romney and never faced another serious battle for his Senate seat.
Although his party lost the White House six years later, Sen. Kennedy remained in the thick of the legislative action, in 2001 helping to pass President Bush's No Child Left Behind bill, and rescuing it again six years later when it was up for renewal.
On most other issues, notably Iraq, Sen. Kennedy bitterly opposed the Bush administration. He once said his proudest Senate vote was cast in 2002 rejecting force against Iraq. "There was no imminent threat," he said later.
In January 2008, he endorsed the presidential candidacy of another early opponent of the war, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), calling for "a new generation of leadership" in America.
Three months later, he left his hospital bed and flew to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Slowly making his way to the lectern to the cheers, and tears, of 20,000 rapturous fellow Democrats, he proclaimed, in a voice still strong, "a season of hope."
Delegates of a certain age heard echoes of his brother's 1961 inaugural address and of his own impassioned speech at Madison Square Garden nearly three decades earlier.
"This is what we do," he proclaimed. "We reach the moon. We scale the heights."