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Joseph Kennedy

Joseph Kennedy

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John IbbitsonWashington — From Saturday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Saturday, Jul.

18, 2009 03:36AM EDTForty years ago today, Edward Kennedy drove a car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, an accident that cost Mary Jo Kopechne her life and that may have kept him from the White House.

Which might have proved a blessing.

"There was going to be a Chappaquiddick," says Laurence Leamer, the author of three bestselling books on the Kennedy clan.

"There was going to be some horrible event that he was thrust into." For much of his life, Mr.

Kennedy kept company with powerful and ambitious men who saw the Massachusetts senator as their vehicle back to the White House, for which he was probably not suited.

"He had an immensely troubled life," Mr.

Leamer said in an interview.

"He was surrounded by people who were trying to make him something he wasn't." Yet Ted Kennedy ultimately evolved into what many believe is the finest senator in the history of the chamber: the author, in a career spanning 46 years and nine presidents, of landmark reforms in health care, education, immigration, workers' rights and foreign policy.

"His accomplishments are not only extraordinary in the history of the Senate, they outmatch the accomplishments of just about any of the great presidents," believes Jim Young, director of the Kennedy Oral History Project at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs.

During the long years of Republican rule, Mr.

Young believes, Mr.

Kennedy served as "the other president" with "a national constituency in opposition to, as well as in support of the president." Today, at 77, Mr.

Kennedy is fighting brain cancer.

He suffered a seizure at President Barack Obama's inauguration, and has not been seen on Capitol Hill since April.

Friends and family say he has good days and bad days.

There are unconfirmed reports that he is losing memory and, at times, lucidity.

According to Mr.

Leamer, plans are already well advanced for his funeral.

Forty years after his car went off the bridge, his body failing, we can look back on Ted Kennedy's life with greater admiration and respect than we often felt during it.

"He was the last and least of the brothers," Mr.

Leamer observes.

"He was the one who was almost an embarrassment.

Yet history may see him as having the greatest legacy of them all." A diver helps raise Senator Edward Kennedy's car out of the water eight hours after the accident in which Mary Jo Kopechne was killed on July 18, 1969.

At the time the car was pulled from the water, Mr.

Kennedy hadn't yet told police of the accident.A true Kennedy He is a Kennedy, part of a hard-driving, high-living dynasty whose public prominence and relentless recklessness produced generations of scandal and untimely deaths.

Few spoons were of purer silver than the one Teddy Kennedy had in his mouth when he was born.

Joseph Kennedy's youngest boy spent his childhood shuttling from Hyannis Port, Mass., to Palm Beach, Fla., to the Court of St.


He received his first communion from the Pope.

Harvard expelled him for cheating, then welcomed him back.

Cardinal Francis Spellman officiated at his first wedding.

His brother John made sure he could inherit the president's old Senate seat just as soon as he turned 30.

Yet his life has been scarred by tragedy.

The assassination of two brothers.

The amputation of one son's leg; the treatment of another for drug addiction.

The 1964 airplane crash that left him with an injured back that plagues him to this day.

His first wife's alcoholism.

His own.

"Say what you want, he's an alcoholic," Mr.

Leamer believes.

"He's an alcoholic who, no matter what he drinks, can get up the next morning and go to work.

And he used the alcohol and sex and all kinds of diversions to get him away from the realities of his life." And then there was the party, the car ride, the turn down a darkened lane, the car plunging into the water, the panicked senator avoiding police, offering explanations that rang as hollow then as they do today.

Edward Klein is the author of Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died, a new biography.

He does not believe Chappaquiddick kept Mr.

Kennedy from becoming president, noting that it played little part in Mr.

Kennedy's unsuccessful attempt in 1980 to take the nomination away from the sitting president, Jimmy Carter.

Rather, the campaign was undermined by its own disorganization and by Mr.

Kennedy's inability to explain why he wanted to become president.

For Mr.

Klein, this speaks to deeper conflicts.

"In his heart of hearts, he never thought he deserved to become president of the United States," he says.

"There was a psychological barrier within him.

… He simply could not vault over the hierarchical order that had been established in his family and outshine at least two if not three of his brothers." Joe, the oldest brother, was killed in the Second World War.

Senator Edward Kennedy is escorted by troopers as he leaves the courthouse in Edgartown, Mass.

after pleading guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident in this July 25, 1969 photo.

Mary Jo Kopechne drowned after a car driven by Mr.

Kennedy plunged off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Ma.
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