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Joyce Carol Oates: Chappaquiddick a “Fortunate Fall”

August 28, 2009

So, I lied. I said no more Kennedy stuff, but this is just so odious. And I’m sure a lie won’t matter in the end; even manslaughter is just a “pesky footnote”, evidently.

Kennedy’s redemption from the depths

There are no second acts in American lives’– this dour pronouncement of F Scott Fitzgerald has been many times refuted, and at no time more appropriately than in reference to the late Senator Ted Kennedy, whose death was announced yesterday. Indeed, it might be argued that Senator Kennedy’s career as one of the most influential of 20th-century Democratic politicians, an iconic figure as powerful, and as morally enigmatic, as President Bill Clinton, whom in many ways Kennedy resembled, was a consequence of his notorious behaviour at Chappaquiddick bridge in July 1969.

Yet, ironically, following this nadir in his life/ career, Ted Kennedy seemed to have genuinely refashioned himself as a serious, idealistic, tirelessly energetic liberal Democrat in the mold of 1960s/1970s American liberalism, arguably the greatest Democratic senator of the 20th century. His tireless advocacy of civil rights, rights for disabled Americans, health care, voting reform, his courageous vote against the Iraq war (when numerous Democrats including Hillary Clinton voted for it) suggest that there are not only “second acts” in American lives, but that the Renaissance concept of the “fortunate fall” may be relevant here: one “falls” as Adam and Eve “fell”; one sins and repents and is forgiven, provided that one remakes one’s life.

Oh, it was just a little “notorious behavior”. And big whoop; he totally refashioned himself into a super cool Uber-Liberal. Isn’t that all that matters?

She goes onto describe what happened and how Mary Jo Kopechne died; she asphyxiated, she didn’t drown.. She struggled for hours trapped in a car with less and less oxygen. She describes how Kennedy simply went about his business, chatted, went to sleep and didn’t report the accident for TEN HOURS.  She admits his explanations regarding absolutely everything were unbelievable.

And yet, she doesn’t care. THAT isn’t what matters to her. Mary Jo Kopechne matters not one whit either.

One is led to think of Tom and Daisy Buchanan of Fitzgerald’s the Great Gatsby, rich individuals accustomed to behaving carelessly and allowing others to clean up after them. It is often in instances of the “fortunate fall”, think of Joseph Conrad’s anti-hero/hero Lord Jim as a classic literary analogy, that innocent individuals figure almost as ritual sacrifices is another aspect of the phenomenon.

Yet if one weighs the life of a single young woman against the accomplishments of the man President Obama has called the greatest Democratic senator in history, what is one to think?

The poet John Berryman once wondered: “Is wickedness soluble in art?”. One might rephrase, in a vocabulary more suitable for our politicized era: “Is wickedness soluble in good deeds?”

This paradox lies at the heart of so much of public life: individuals of dubious character and cruel deeds may redeem themselves in selfless actions. Fidelity to a personal code of morality would seem to fade in significance as the public sphere, like an enormous sun, blinds us to all else.

Firstly, I don’t see how his holding a Senate seat, a position of power, for FOUR DECADES is selfless. In fact, I’ve seen not one speck of evidence anywhere indicating that Ted Kennedy ever did a thing that was actually selfless.  However, that part is just blind ignorance and willful stupidity.  The rest is worse.

Yes, she is weighing what is “worth” more. Evidently, she has no paygrade limitations; nothing is “above” hers.  The life of one bright, young  woman? Meh.   Kennedy’s “accomplishments” are worth more than a LIFE. He’s worth more. Why? President Obama said HE was Greatest Democrat Senator Evah!

I wonder what N.O.W. thinks about this? The life of a man worth far more than that of a young woman? I expect their response will be: *crickets* I suspect they also think it was “worth it” for him to become adamantly Pro-Unrestricted-Abortion-On-Demand.

Ms. Oates, you disgust me.  Once again, the “end justifies the means” attitude of some of those on the Left, together with their absolute disdain for the value of any life that gets in the way of *their* goals, is on gross display for all to see.

Unfortunately, Mary Jo. Kopechne’s family will see it as well.

(h/t Andy Levy )

UPDATE: Allahpundit at Hot Air weighs in; he cuts Oates slightly more slack than I do, but makes valid points. Good read.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Gregory Koster permalink
    August 29, 2009 6:18 am

    Dear S&B: Nope. Don’t get too agitated about this. Kopechne had worked for the the Kennedys for five years. She knew what a ride home in the dark with Ted meant. To be sure, she wasn’t expecting Ted’s amateur waterboarding, and certainly didn’t deserve to die. But if her Wikipedia biography is at all accurate, politics was her life. Had she not gotten in the care, she’d be 69 year old battleaxe, who hated Reagan, howled for Bork’s dismemberment, roared that Bush41 was a sexist who wanted all womyn to die from illegal abortions, shrieked that Monica Lewinsky was trailer trash (and probably noticed the lines on her face in the mirror for the first time while doing so) and tramped the streets bawling for Bush43’s impeachment because 9/11 was an inside job. No doubt Matt Cooper would interview her as profile of public opinion… She didn’t deserve to die, but let’s not delude ourselves about what she likely would have become.

    Nor should we spare the other authors of this tragedy, i.e. the Massachusetts legal establishment. Puppies rolling on their backs in the clover would have inconvenienced Kennedy more, likely because wriggling puppies would remind him there were still women he hadn’t defiled that day…Finally the Kopechne family could have stopped it the way the Goldmans did with OJ: by mounting a wrongful death lawsuit. Instead they settled for $140,000, not a colossal sum even in the 1970s, and trifle to all the Kennedy millions. Dracula would have died on that amount of blood money. Kennedy’s actions are the embodiment of the ancient legal principle, Whaddaya gonna do about it, chum? What Kennedy did was to loll about for years, working hard for what he believed in (occasionally with peculiar results; I still don’t understand how he was the driving forced behind truck and airline deregulation), but mostly acting like the proverbial slob until by still more cosmic injustice, he found a woman whom he could respect and married her. To be sure, Victoria Kennedy is now barricaded behind the muniment room doors while the odious Kennedy children pound at the doors, bawling that their day has come, and you ain’t really a Kennedy, your reign is over, get outa here…

    Some may find these remarks insufficiently respectful, but what else can you do? Kennedy was a colossal disaster for this nation, not least because he could never be stopped, thanks to the witlessness of Massachusetts, and honorary citizens of the Bay State, e.g. Matthew Cooper or Joyce Carol Oates. Rage does no good, and hoping he is enjoying the warmer climate he now inhabits is unseemly. I think snickering at Teddy is the proper sendoff for him. Remind his blubbering admirers that even such an inept Bumpkin as Jimmy Carter could see him off of the only office he ever really wanted. That will help give Teddy the light he needs to see if it is really Mary Jo jerking the chain around his neck that he’s suddenly wearing.

    Sincerely yours,
    Gregory Koster

  2. Nicole permalink
    June 26, 2011 12:31 am

    Have you ever read Black Water? I have a feeling you interpret her article differently if you do…


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