Edward (Teddy) Kennedy

By: Victoria Yates

Edward Kennedy Edward Moore “Ted” Kennedy was born on the 22nd of February 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts, the youngest of nine children to Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald, both prominent members of Irish-American families and constituting one of the wealthiest families in America. His siblings included John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Eunice Kennedy-Shriver. The family moved frequently during his childhood and by the age of eleven Kennedy had attended ten different schools. A sign of his unique family situation was that at the age of seven he received his first Communion from Pope Pius XII in the Vatican. He suffered a multitude of personal tragedies between the ages of eight and sixteen including the trauma of his sister Rosemary’s failed lobotomy, and the deaths of his brother Joseph P. Jr. in World War II and sister Kathleen Agnes in an airplane crash.

Kennedy attended Harvard in 1951 and was put into the very athletically minded Winthrop House. In May 1951 Kennedy, worried about losing his eligibility for athletics the year after, had a friend take an examination for him on Spanish. The two were discovered and expelled. Under Harvard rules the pair were told they could reapply after one or two years after demonstrating good behavior. In June he joined the US Army, serving and training in various sectors and camps before being assigned in June 1952 to the honor guard at SHAPE headquarters in Paris. It was probably as a result of his father’s political connections that he was not deployed to the Korean War. He was discharged in March 1953 as a private first class.

That summer he re-entered Harvard, but was put on athletic probation for his first year before returning to football the following year, something that played a big part in the remainder of his time at Harvard. He graduated in 1956 with an A.B in History and Government. Following his time at Harvard he completed a law degree at the University of Virginia School in 1959. In 1958 he married Virginia Joan Bennett with whom he had three children between 1960 and 1967. By the mid-1960s the marriage was troubled by Kennedy’s womanizing and growing problems with alcoholism.

In 1960 Kennedy managed his brother John’s presidential campaign in the Western states. During the Democratic primary campaign he traveled around the western states, meeting delegates and attempting activities such as ski jumping and bronco riding. It was because of his work in Wisconsin that his brother won the first contested primary of the season there. When JFK won the general election he vacated his Senate seat in Massachusetts - however Ted was not eligible to fill the seat until he turned thirty. He instead went to work as an assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, Massachusetts where he developed a hard-nosed attitude to crime. He also began speaking to local political clubs and organizations around this time. In 1962 he was elected Senator for Massachusetts, and he focused on committee work and local issues.

On November 22nd 1963, while presiding over the Senate, Kennedy was informed that his brother John F. had been shot. Shortly after this Robert was the one to tell him that their brother had died. He returned home to tell his father the news. In June1964 Kennedy was in a private plane when it crashed in Massachusetts on its final approach. Two others onboard died while Kennedy spent months in hospital recovering. He used the opportunity to meet academics and study issues in greater depth, and the experience triggered a lifelong interest in the health care services. He returned to the Senate in 1965 with a stronger legislative staff. He almost succeeded in banning poll tax in 1965, and was a leader in pushing through the Immigration and Nationality Act in the same year. This ended the quota system that was based upon national origin which would have a profound effect on the demographic makeup of the US. He held hearings on the plight of refugees in the Vietnam War and attempted to reform “unfair” and “inequitable” aspects of the draft. By 1968, when he visited Vietnam, he was disillusioned with the lack of US progress.

Kennedy initially advised Robert against challenging the incumbent President Johnson in the 1968 election. Once his campaign started however Kennedy helped his brother gain endorsements in Western states. He was in San Francisco on June 4th when his brother Robert was shot in Los Angeles, dying the next day. This hit Kennedy particularly hard as he was closest to Robert than any other member of the family. Following his brother’s death many argued for Kennedy to take the place of his brother in the election race. But he felt unready for the job and believed he would merely serve as a stand-in for Robert - so Kennedy declined to run for president or be considered for the vice-Presidential spot. After the death of his brothers he also took on the role of surrogate father to their 13 children.

In 1969 Kennedy became the youngest person to become the Senate Majority Whip. This boosted the view oft held of him as a presidential candidate. He seemed however deeply conflicted by a sense of inevitability that he would have to run for the position, a reluctance partly due to his fear of being killed. In July 1969 he was at Martha’s Vineyard attending a party for the “Boiler Room Girls” who had worked on Robert’s presidential campaign the year before. When he left the party he was driving Mary Jo Kopechne and accidentally drove off Dike Bridge. He escaped the overturned vehicle but did not call authorities until after Mary Jo’s body was discovered. He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and was given a two month suspended sentence. He did however remain in office. In 1971 he lost his position as Senate Majority Whip. He later considered this a blessing as it gave him time to focus on major issues and committee work. He played, for instance, an important role in the creation and passage of the National Cancer Act of 1971.

He strongly opposed the involvement of British troops in Northern Ireland, calling for a united Ireland and suggesting that any Protestants who couldn’t accept this should be given an opportunity to go back to Britain. He also gave scores of anti-war speeches against Nixon’s policy of Vietnamization and criticized Nixon’s support of Pakistan in the repression of East Bengal. He was again encouraged to enter the running at the next election but once more declined but the nomination and the vice-presidential spot. The strain of his son Edward Jr.’s two years of experimental drug treatment for chondrosarcoma and his other sons Patrick Jr.’s severe asthma attacks led Kennedy to enter facilities for alcoholism and emotional strain several times. He was also arrested for drunk driving after a traffic accident. Despite these personal problems Kennedy renewed his efforts for national health insurance as well as pushing for campaign finance reform following the Watergate scandal. He also traveled to the Soviet Union where he advocated a full nuclear test ban.

Yet again he was considered a contender for the 1976 election but he had concerns about his family and the incident with Mary Jo was still in the news with a variety of publications questioning his version of events. The years of the Carter administration were Kennedy’s least successful as a politician. He lost his position as the most influential politician in Washington, something he’d enjoyed since Robert’s death. Kennedy finally chose to run for President in 1980. However the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan led voters to rally around the incumbent President Carter. Of course the lingering publicity around the death of Mary Jo (the Chappaquiddick incident) made matters worse. During the St. Patrick’s day parade before the Illinois Primary Kennedy had to wear a bullet proof vest because of assassination threats from those angry about the truth of what had happened with Mary Jo. Defeated by Carter he didn’t truly rally behind the President and this lack of party unity contributed to Carter’s loss to Reagan in the election.

In the 1980s, despite the Republican majority Kennedy continued to work with issues close to his heart to do with labor and public welfare. He was one of the sole effective democrats in battling Reagan’s government reshaping plans. He divorced from Joan in 1981 and although he toyed with the idea of running in the 1984 election his family turned him against it, leading to his realization that the Senate was a fully satisfying career. In 1985 he completed a dangerous and high profile trip to South Africa. He defied the apartheid government wishes and those of the militant anti-white AZAPO demonstrators by spending a night in the Soweto home of Bishop Desmund Tutu and visiting Winnie Mandela, the wife of the imprisoned Mandela. On his return he became the leading driver for US economic sanctions against South Africa. Although an accomplished legislator his personal life was very troubled throughout this period. He drank heavily (but not when it would affect his Senate duties) and his weight fluctuated greatly. He was also noted to have chased women. He was twice involved in drunken incidents in Washington restaurants with one also involving unwelcome physical contact with a waitress.

One of his triumphs at this time was his opposition to Robert Bork’s nomination for the U.S Supreme Court. Kennedy’s “Robert Bork’s America” speech enraged supporters and worried some democrats but froze support until a case could be built. Kennedy challenged Bork on civil rights, women’s rights and other issues. The nomination was eventually defeated in both committee and the full Senate. The “Americans with Disabilities Act” of 1990 was directed by Kennedy and because of his serious interest in health care he felt it to be one of his most important successes. His personal life came to dominate from the late 1980s after the paparazzi stalked. His nephew William Kennedy Smith aggravated this on Easter weekend of 1991 when he and Patricia Bowman had sex on a beach, which he claimed to be consensual and she to have been rape.

Kennedy sought to rebuild his political career and in 1992 married again to Victoria Anne Reggie, a Washington lawyer. He formed a good relationship with President Bill Clinton and continued to work to push through vital legislation such as the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 that created the Americorps program. In 1996 Kennedy secured an increase in the minimum wage law, and worked with others to create and pass the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in 1996 and the Mental Health Parity Act that forced insurance companies to treat mental health payments the same as others. In 1999 tragedy struck again with the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and sister in law following a plane crash. Kennedy was thus left as the sole and steady patriarch of the Kennedy family.

After September 11th 2001, Kennedy called all 177 Massachusetts families who had been affected by the attacks. Throughout the Bush administration he opposed the Iraq war, although he supported the overthrowing of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He continued to work towards healthcare changes and pushed through various pieces of legislation relating to immigration policy. Kennedy endorsed President Obama strongly during his campaign, but on May 17th 2008 suffered a seizure that led to the discovery of a malignant glioma, a cancerous brain tumor. Even while fighting his cancer he continued to appear at Capitol, for example to support the Obama Stimulus Package. And on March 4th 2009 he was granted an honorary Knighthood by the Queen for his work in the Northern Ireland peace process. At the end of July 2009 he was also the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom but was too unwell to attend the ceremony. He died on the 25th of August 2009 at his home in Hyannis Port.

Edward Kennedy was an effective politician, a member of the 20th Century's most well known American dynasty, and a real social leader. Kennedy always served his country and the wider world despite his many personal difficulties and tragedies. Although clearly not without flaws and questionable personal judgment, he led the way on major issues such as health care and workers rights. Kennedy’s long and exhaustive list of accomplishments is a testament to a life dedicated to service and betterment.