Melissa Lafsky, August 27, 2009, Huffington Post
We're comfortable with moral relativism in this country -- or, at least, we love us a good "sinned and redeemed" narrative. And, for the most part, we realize that there are few lives on which we can slap a "Good" or "Evil" label and expect it to be accurate.
Which, let's face it, is one of the reasons the Ted Kennedy story is so fascinating. The huge achievements, weighed against the huge sins. Forty-six years of history-book accomplishments on everything from Civil Rights to the Americans with Disabilities Act to gender equality. Disabled? Poor? A member of any minority group? Then chances are your life is at least somewhat better because of Ted Kennedy. And for anyone who started to lose faith in the left's seeming impotence over the past decade (cough cough) he provided a pretty strong reason not to throw in the towel.
So now he's dead, and we do what we do when a Kennedy dies: read and write obsessively about him. Some of the obituaries are point-counterpoint parallels of sin with salvation. Then there are obsequious, grandiose bromides like:
He was a Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life, instantly recognizable by his shock of white hair, his florid, oversize face, his booming Boston brogue, his powerful but pained stride. He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy.
But in all the florid or scalpel-sharp prose, there's one constant: Peeking out from the center of the story is the matter of his playing a major part in the death of a 28-year-old woman.
Mary Jo wasn't a right-wing talking point or a negative campaign slogan. She was a dedicated civil rights activist and political talent with a bright future -- granted, whenever someone dies young, people sermonize about how he had a "bright future" ahead of him -- but she actually did. She wasn't afraid to defy convention (28 and unmarried, oh the horror!) or create her own career path based on her talents. She lived in Georgetown (where I grew up) and loved the Red Sox (we'll forgive her for that). Then she got in a car driven by a 36-year-old senator with an alcohol problem and a cauldron full of demons, and wound up a controversial footnote in a dynasty.
We don't know how much Kennedy was affected by her death, or what she'd have thought about arguably being a catalyst for the most successful Senate career in history. What we don't know, as always, could fill a Metrodome.
Still, ignorance doesn't preclude a right to wonder. So it doesn't automatically make someone (aka, me) a Limbaugh-loving, aerial-wolf-hunting NRA troll for asking what Mary Jo Kopechne would have had to say about Ted's death, and what she'd have thought of the life and career that are being (rightfully) heralded.
Who knows -- maybe she'd feel it was worth it.
This post originally appeared on Opinionistas.com."